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Huang Xuan and Fiona Sit in Nightmare.

Chinese: 青魘
Year: 2012  
Director: Herman Yau Lai-To
Writer: Nan Ke, Liang Lihua
Cast: Huang Xuan, Fiona Sit Hoi-Kei, Zhou Chuchu, Tao Hai, Shang Daiqing, Cai Wen, Zhang Qian, Qiao Lisheng, Xu Haiwei
The Skinny: This unmemorable mindbender is OK for a China horror film, but as always that doesn't mean much. Lacks the hidden layers and intelligent wit of director Herman Yau's better works.
by Kozo:
Horror films and China censorship: two things that do not go great together. So it is with Herman Yauís Nightmare, a psychological chiller that does all sorts of backflips, contortions and acrobatics to avoid pissing off SARFT. The result is a film thatís never conclusive about its details or resolution and wraps its reveals in so many layers of psychosis that even if someone were to state the filmís meaning, someone else could easily debunk it. Maybe SARFT just passed Nightmare because they were tired of arguing about it. Huang Xuan stars as Dong Zi, an insomniac who sometimes spends his nights watching his comely neighbor suffer her own insomnia. He peeps at her through her curtain-less windows while she paints creepy pictures of a scary long-haired woman with a bloody gash on her forehead. Then someone slashes her with a knife and throws her off her balcony. Dong Zi witnesses the whole thing so heís not too happy.

Unfortunately, thereís no body, no witnesses and the girlís apartment has long been vacant. Dong Zi is right flummoxed by the confusing details, but luckily he has a radio show host cum psychologist for a girlfriend. Yi Fan (Fiona Sit) lovingly counsels Dong Zi on his hallucinations, but not before he takes a trip back to rural Nine Mile Village, where he was raised and where his grandmother recently died. His uncle Feng (Tao Hai) lives there alone and puts Dong Zi in an old bedroom to stay the night. Unfortunately, spectral visions and loud sounds torture Dong Zi there too, and when he ventures into the night he sees another woman getting stabbed and killed. Suddenly heís back in Yi Fanís office and getting schooled on the ins-and-outs of repressed memory. Or is he really back in Nine Mile Village? And why does he imagine himself as a child? Which is the dream world and which is the waking one? And does any of this really matter?

Donít worry, Nightmare isnít as confusing as it sounds, thanks to the relatively solid storytelling from Herman Yau. The film opens with portentous atmosphere and unexplained phenomena before detouring to Yi Fanís therapistís couch where exposition is welcome and necessary. The film takes a further turn at Nine Mile Village, where an unsolved crime from the past may figure into Dong Ziís issues. Nightmare possesses a decent enough mystery such that one may stick around for answers, though said answers arenít new. The horror-thriller genre has lacked innovation for a while, and with extreme style or content not allowed, itís hard to imagine Herman Yau doing better than he does here. Yau isnít really a stylist anyway, and doesnít sensationalize the story. Settings are real and not expressionistic, costumes doubly so, and editing is used for storytelling rather than montage. At times Nightmare hews closer to Yauís low-key nineties horror efforts, e.g., the Troublesome Night films.

If thereís any novelty in Nightmare, itís the plotís constant shifting between waking and dream states. Numerous times, the film tries to surprise us by having Dong Zi escape sticky situations by waking up from a dream. Or was it a dream within a dream within a hallucination? Who really knows? Nightmare is near Inception-like with its jumps to and from the dream world, though this is obviously a much cheaper and less interesting film. Towards the end, Nightmare delivers twist after fake-out after reveal, such that nothing seems to be real or matter anymore Ė not even the filmís purported romance. For what it is, Nightmare is an OK diversion — though, unlike other Herman Yau films, it doesnít offer any hidden wit or intelligence. This is just one for hire, and it shows in Yauís solid professionalism and the filmís utter lack of substance. Nightmare isnít the worst China horror around but itís entirely unmemorable. You know, just like a dream. (Kozo, 2012)

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