Nate Ki’s first feature film is a disturbing horror movie that shows his ability to hint at backstory rather than explicitly explaining it, and also his willingness to include graphic and disturbing scenes. While most directors would shy away from traumatizing the audience with depictions of child abuse, suicide, self-harm, and rape, Ki does not hold back. The editing does not dwell too long on these scenes, but there is still plenty to unsettle the viewer. The film draws inspiration from both Cantonese horror cinema and Western filmmakers, with elements reminiscent of David Lynch’s Lost Highway and Ari Aster’s Midsommar. However, this may be coincidental.
The tale begins with Heung Wing, a popular Cantonese singer (played by Anson Ip-Sang Kong), receiving a call to return to his hometown of Hong Kong. He learns that his mother (played brilliantly by Bai Ling) has cut out her own tongue, attempted suicide, and is now in a coma. Visiting her in the hospital, he feels helpless as there is little he can do. He then goes to his childhood home, a run-down apartment in a rough area of the city. Memories of his past flood back, particularly his ability to see ghosts as a child. This talent was feared and envied by his single mother, who took him to a nearby temple to try and rid him of it.
As the traumatic memories of the past resurface, Wing helplessly observes the events from within the same space, similar to a stage performer watching a flashback scene. He realizes that things haven’t improved much since then. A young boy named Yu (Wesley Wong) possesses similar abilities and, like Wing when he was young, is understandably afraid and anxious. In the hallway, there are the Chungs (Tai-Bo and Yuk Ying Tam), an elderly couple who are overly friendly in a disturbing manner, much like the characters portrayed by Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer in Rosemary’s Baby.
Ki utilizes revolving cameras and canted angles to create a sense of unease, along with a lighting scheme that heavily features jaundice-yellow tones for daytime scenes and bold reds and blues for nighttime scenes. This choice in lighting further enhances the terrifying appearance of Bai Ling, who often dons a traditional Chinese opera costume with a sparkling headpiece and disheveled makeup. Yet, amidst all this, it serves as a powerful reminder of Bai’s exceptional acting abilities as she infuses her signature intense sensuality with elements of tragedy and madness.