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In Love with the Dead

(left) Shawn Yue, and (right) Stephy Tang in In Love with the Dead.
Chinese: 塚愛  
Year: 2007  
Director: Danny Pang Fat  
Producer: Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang Fat
Writer: Danny Pang Fat, Pak-Sing Pang
Cast: Shawn Yue, Stephy Tang Lai-Yun, Yung-Yung Yu, Zeng Qi Qi, Kiki Sheung Tin-Ngor, Raymond Tso Wing-Lim, Patrick Tam Yiu-Man, Ken Wong Hap-Hei
The Skinny: Decently paced and developed...and then the bottom drops out. In Love with the Dead has some new twists to the Pang Brothers formula, but the end result is nothing new from the once-ballyhooed brothers. A better story would be a start.
by Kozo:

Decent direction, half-baked story. That could be the epitaph of the Danny Pang-Oxide Pang duo, better known to the world as the Pang Brothers, whose work in the Asian horror genre has gone from accomplished to uninspiring to finally repetitive. Thankfully, the brothers are attempting new genres with their stories, dropping the usual "I see ghosts" plotlines for detective films (The Detective), sci-fi mysteries (Forest of Death), and now terminal illness dramas (In Love with the Dead). However, there still has to be a horror element, because if there wasn't, then what excuse would there be for loud shock scares, creepy production design, or pale, long-haired girls who look like they've not eaten in months? In Love with the Dead, directed by Danny Pang and produced by Pang and brother Oxide, changes up the Pang Brothers formula, and does so in a surprisingly involving manner. But in the end, despite any innovations to the usual Pang tropes, it doesn't really go anywhere, resulting in an underwhelming motion picture. You could score some laughs, though.

Box-office princess Stephy Tang stars as Wai, a sweet young thing afflicted with pancreatic cancer. The prognosis is not good, with only a 20% chance of recovery, but at least she has insanely loving boyfriend Ming (Shawn Yue), who lives with Wai and her little sister Ping (Zeng Qi Qi). While Wai stays at home in their poorly lit, borderline creepy flat, he's out there trying to make ends meet, but his insistence on knocking off early to race home to Wai results in his unemployment. His new job promises to be slightly more understanding because he's working for childhood friend Fong (Yoka Yue), but Fong is pretty damn attractive and apparently not so stable with her fiancé. She also had a thing for Ming back in grade school, and Wai is well aware of it, also having attended school with the two of them. Since she's dying, plus her condition makes intimacy difficult, and Ming may have a chance with a hot ingénue, perhaps Wai should consider some sort of noble sacrifice in order to ease her beloved's heartbreak. That is, before Ming is tempted into two-timing anyway.

Hold on, there's also a horror element to add to the mix. Little Ping keeps getting busted at school for reading horror comics, and thinks that Wai is starting to resemble the icky drawings in her pulpy reading material. Wai's battle with cancer comes with the appropriate mood swings, but there are odd details arising, including her growing disenchantment with Western medicine (she hates chemotherapy), and a growing belief in Eastern practices, including herbal medicine and practicing qigong, or the coordination of breathing patterns via poses and postures, AKA internal martial arts. No, this doesn't mean Stephy Tang will soon be kicking Shawn Yue's ass as the toughest terminal beauty around, but she may be able to walk via her hands, plus there may be side effects requiring the creepy stylistic touch of the Pang Brothers. The bigger question may be what's happening to Ming, because soon Ping starts to think that Ming looks like the drawings in her comic books, too. Since the title of the film is In Love with the Dead, we can only assume that someone is being kicked off. But is it Wai or Ming who's lacking the pulse?

In Love with the Dead earns points for dabbling in other genres, namely the terminal illness romance, and Danny Pang's effort is surprisingly accomplished. He uses very few characters, few sets, and a maximum of breathing room (the film is glacially paced by Hong Kong standards), but there is something involving in his pacing and how he slowly digs into the characters to reveal their insecurities and fears. The cast turns in decent performances, and the film progresses effectively. The horror elements are introduced quite well, creeping up slowly, and building to a final revelation or discovery that will hopefully make everything that came before worthwhile. These elements do intrigue, adding anticipation to the film, and despite the overuse of certain techniques (shock sounds, montages, fadeouts), In Love with the Dead feels like it's heading somewhere. The film is patient, and forces the audience to be patient too. As the film nears its close, it's obvious that something is definitely up, and Danny Pang does enough to keep us around to find out.

But is the payoff worth it? I say no, and in fact, I also call shenanigans. Thanks to selective disclosure and an abundance of misleading details, In Love with the Dead goes from portentous horror-romance to red herring-filled disappointment. When the big reveal occurs, its handling can cause giggles, if not derisive laughter. Comedy was obviously not the final goal of the Pang Brothers, and indeed there's nothing truly that funny about what In Love with the Dead reveals in its final moments. But the film does not seduce or convince enough such that its climax elicits the desired emotion. One can only suspect they were looking to disturb or even horrify the audience, but it doesn't work here. For most of the film, Pang seems to know what he's doing, building the situations and the tension, but when the ending rolls around, the whole thing collapses. What's to blame here? A flimsy story? Uninteresting characters? Too many misleading details? Or does Pang Brothers + horror genre = not working anymore? It's probably all of the above, and the quickest fix may be to try something completely, totally different. I still believe that the Pang Brothers have the talent to do a lot more. However, given their recent run of films, that belief has begun to waver. (Kozo 2007)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Universe Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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