it starts out as an obvious Sixth Sense ripoff, Law
Chi-Leung and Derek Yee's cerebral horror-thriller is an
entertaining and worthy effort. They manage to tell an interesting
story with just the right cinematic touch. For a Hong Kong
film, this is easily above average work.
Newly-minted Hong Kong Film
Award Winner Karena Lam stars as Yan Cheung, an emotionally
damaged young woman who - that's right - sees dead people.
Though she's become ultra-tense thanks to her constant frights,
she elects to move into a new apartment by herself. Landlord
Norman Tsui advertises the flat as having lots of natural
light, but unfortunately there's something called nighttime.
When dusk arrives, Yan is stuck in a spooky, closed-in space
all by herself, and before too long she starts seeing apparitions
of Tsui's dead wife and child.
Enter psychiatrist Jim Law
(Leslie Cheung), a workaholic therapist who has elaborate
theories to the origin of ghosts in a person's psyche. According
to Jim, ghosts are simply the result of the imagination,
created by imprinted conditioning (i.e. ghost stories or
cultural superstition) and a person's tendencies to believe
Jim is assigned to Yan by her former
doctor Wilson (Waise Lee), who also happens to be Jim's
friend and Yan's brother-in-law. Jim immediately pegs Yan
as a practicer of his pet theory. He believes she's a self-centered,
emotionally unstable crybaby who attributes her fears and
failures to the presence of ghosts. In true movie-therapist
style, Jim makes Yan's case his personal crusade, and resolves
to get to the bottom of her extensive emotional hang-ups.
Though resistant at first, Yan eventually agrees to Jim's
counsel, and even begins attaching herself emotionally to
Newcomer Karena Lam does a
fine job opposite screen veteran Leslie Cheung, and gives
a compelling and even genuine performance. As usual, Cheung
overacts at key times, but it works for his part. Law Chi-Leung's
direction shores up any overkill in the acting, and it also
helps hide the film's inherent unoriginality. While the
story is thoughtful and well-developed, it still rings of
your usual horror/thriller genre devices. And Jim's attempts
to cure Yan become your standard doctor-patient drama with
romantic issues thrown in for good measure.
However, when hour two rolls
around, things change. They really change. In fact, if you're
one of those "no spoilers" moviegoers then I highly
suggest skipping the next paragraph. I won't be giving away
too much, but a few hints might spoil the ride.
issues are the film's immediate focus, but the film eventually
shifts to its true subject: Jim Law. Jim is far from the
balanced, stable doctor that he initally appears to be.
While he does care about his work and his patients, he's
not a healthy puppy. In truth, Jim makes Yan look like the
poster child for well-adjusted individuals. He has serious,
serious, problems and when they eventually come to light,
not just Jim's sanity is called into question. There's a
possibility that his theories are dead wrong, too.
At this point, things get
really unsettling damn quick. To achive this, director Law
Chi-Leung pulls out a full bag of suspense-thriller tricks,
meaning very little actual action. Suspense is achieved
through uncluttered stillness and silent dread. Aided by
fine cinematography and art direction, Law manages to put
together a horror-suspense flick that bears some comparison
to Japan's seminal chiller The Ring. Like that film,
Law works to create a spiral of fear and madness that looks
like it's going to send everyone straight to hell.
However, just looking like
it's headed to hell is a far cry from actually going there.
When all is said and done, the most remarkable thing about
Inner Senses is how incredibly free of weight it truly
is. The film is involving and even affecting, but it isn't
really haunting - which would seem to register as a failure
given the film's chosen genre. Inner Senses actually
isn't a failure. On the contrary, it's an involving motion
picture that does its job extremely well. However, it's
also a film that doesn't really hold up upon repeat viewings,
as it lacks any real emotional resonance. The film's a great
ride, but once it's over, it's over. (Kozo 2002)