Sunday, February 25, 2007

[DVD] The Maid (2005)

Are You Spooked?

It's not that difficult to understand why The Maid was successful during its run at the local theatres, and have garnered international attention. I did not catch the movie when it premiered in the theatres (that's another story for another day), but one of the many reasons/excuses I had was that the horror genre of late from Asia were usually laughable efforts, with mediocre storylines, sometimes bordering on the ludicrous.

Not that The Maid didn't have its fair share, but somehow it was tolerable, and actually tried to tell a decent story, which I enjoyed. While some might say it's influences have come from movies like The Sixth Sense and Ju-on, I thought it was a decent effort for our current generation of directors to have spun a yarn from the horror genre, currently monopolized by the Japanese and the Koreans. Curiosity about the effort locally had me borrowing this DVD, and I shall unabashedly say I'd enjoy every moment of it, though not without some gripes of course.

The premise is set entirely during the Lunar Seventh Month, which is the month where the Chinese believe the denizens from Hell are released for their holiday on Earth, where they can roam around, and spook folks who do not observe the rules. Rules like not returning home late, not stepping on offerings, not turning back when someone calls you out, and so on. The Maid, seen through the eyes of domestic worker Rosa Dimano (the very beautiful Alessandra de Rossi from The Philippines), introduces audiences and refreshes those familiar with the strange customs, about the do's and the don'ts.

New to Singapore, her employment comes from an elderly couple, the Teos (television veterans Chen Shu Cheng and Hong Hui Fang), who head a Teochew opera troupe. While the Hokkien dialect has made its fair exposure in local cinema thanks to Jack Neo movies, it's refreshing to hear the Teochew language being the lingua franca of choice in the movie. It doesn't take long for Rosa to violate some of the unwritten laws, and therefore, she starts to experience things that go bump in the day and night.

Yup, strange things happen in the day as well, which I find peculiar. Anyway, be it in limited lighting, or broad daylight, the cinematography by Lucas Jodoigne was beautiful, and probably added a positive dimension to the overall feel of the movie, as did the art director Daniel Lim. Were there moments of disappointment? You bet, and the major one is with the spirits themselves. They just stand around doing nothing! Despite relying on the usual tricks up the sleeves of horror filmmakers, like the passing shadows, musical crescendos, creaking furniture, and close up fast cuts, the technique used never go beyond that, and the spirits just hang around. What gives? Some editing needed to be tightened as certain scenes were inserted without much thought to narrative flow, and looked a bit out of place as a transitional scene.

That said, I'm still of the opinion that Kelvin Tong's The Maid has its niched appeal, and more importantly, cemented his ability to make commercial films that can be enjoyed by the masses. If his Love Story had put me off, The Maid had shown what he is capable of, besides his debut with Eating Air, which I also enjoyed.

The visual transfer is decently done, and allows for details to be seen even in scenes with little lighting, rather than becoming all black. The colours were vibrant during the opera scenes, while maintaining the dull atmosphere of the Teo family. English and Mandarin subtitles are available, though for the first 2 minutes of the film where there was a dialect voiceover, somehow the much needed translation explaining some Seventh Month superstition was missed. While subtitling was good, there were some noticeable grammatical errors in the beginning.

You're given a choice of either Dolby Digital 2.0 or 5.1, so depending on how spooked you want to be when the music by Joe Ng and Alex Oh comes on, you might want to tweak it for that surround sound capability.

The Code 3 DVD by Scorpio East comes with the standard offerings like scene selections, and contain special features like the 1min 55s theatrical trailer, as well as the Making Of, with both English and Mandarin subtitles. containing interviews with the principle cast, Kelvin Tong the writer-director, and Daniel Yun, executive producer.

Running 22 minutes, there's a decent amount of information revealed on the art direction, and some behind the scenes look during shooting, where I thought a scene showing the cast having a heck of a time dancing during their break, was hilarious.

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