Saturday, March 09, 2013

Ghost Child (鬼仔 / Gui Zai)

Something Under

23:59, despite its weak storyline, became the sleeper hit of 2011 at the box office for Gorylah pictures, and thrust director Gilbert Chan into the ranks of the few local directors in the million dollar club that is increasingly expanding. Which is a good thing, at the very least, that audiences here are beginning to give local films a chance, good or bad. Started off as co-director for the indie crime caper S11 and the romantic comedy Love Matters, it seems that the horror genre is becoming his calling, with Ghost Child probably trying to prove that 23:59 was no fluke a success.

But strangely though, if put side by side, 23:59 didn't have the strongest of stories, but had scenes intended to scare audiences relatively well executed, despite genre cliches by the truckloads. But Ghost Child seemed to have done the reverse, in having developed a stronger, more coherent storyline, but strangely devoid of any real scares. One can hardly find having one's hand being forced into marking correct answers in a test, or having one's head repeatedly smashed into a mirror, or simulating a ghost-pulling-leg moment in a pool, horrific to make audiences jump at their feet. Nor is having characters running away from a camera looking afraid anything scary. If you're looking for some shock jock moments, then Ghost Chlld is not the horror film you're seeking, since it's remotely anything scary by horror standards.

The ghoul here is the titular Ghost Child also known as a Toyol, made by unborn fetuses through black magic, and will bring an owner a spirit that will help in various tasking, for rewards such as toys and sweets. The consequence is that this spirit gets envious and jealous easily, which will go on to inflict harm to others, and in the worst case scenario, go out of control. Ghost Child had its title to ruin possible red herrings that tried to force their way into the narrative, only for these opportunities to be quickly debunked no thanks to knowing what this film is all about and the ghoul it decided to focus on.

Chen Hanwei and Carmen Soo headline this film, coming off the original film production Love... And Other Bad Habits that had made it to the big screen, where they appeared in different segments. Chen plays Choon, a businessman desperate to sell his shares in a successful company to a business partner (Vincent Tee), only for the latter to constantly stall and play him out. In the prologue, Choon meets Na (Soo) in an under-developed situation - why was he there in the middle of nowhere, what was he doing there, and so on, were questions that were left unanswered, so you'll just have to accept that this couple met, and decide to get married.

In Singapore, Choon's daughter Kim (Jayley Woo) lives with her grandmother (Cecilia Heng) and hasn't seen Choon for far too long, only for him to return with new wife in tow. From the onset, they don't get along, and soon, things start to go bump in the house, with valuables going missing, and toys that strangely got strewn around, with further disturbances to everyone's bedtime. Punches were obviously pulled when the filmmakers decide not to lapse into cliches so as to sophisticate the type of scares they can pull off, but sadly this is a film that could have benefited from the cliched jump scares, rather than to skirt and waddle around traditional opportunities presented in creepy toilets, and the likes. It had two separate and lightweight arcs, one to focus on the granny who you know is asking for it when she gives her amulet away to Kim, while the other deals with Kim's struggle with being outcast in her school, her swim team misadventures, and grappling with poor grades.

Amongst the few key cast members, it is Jayley Woo who stood out playing the scream queen teenager, holding her own opposite veteran Chen Hanwei, who really had little to do other than looking perplexed when he can't figure out his business decisions, and to look elated in the coming of his character's new born, an event that was announced in the most unconvincing part of the story. Carmen Soo didn't have much to do in the film other than to lend her accented Mandarin in passing off as n Indonesian, with scenes that go one step further to cast stereotypes and prejudices locals have toward those providing caregiving and domestic household work here.

It would be a surprise if Ghost Child were to make as big an impact as 23:59. But in any case, I would suggest that the next Gilbert Chan film should break away from the need to have unnamed characters sitting around in a circle telling each other ghost stories. It was a plot device used in 23:59 with army recruits gathering around in their bunk, and now a group of students gathering around a camp-fire doing exactly the same thing. This does nothing more than to provide additional scary scenes outside of the main narrative, which is an extra that's unnecessary should the main story be solidly created.

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