Saturday, May 8, 2010

Womb Ghosts (2010)

The Hong Kong Police is puzzled. How can a female inmate of a mental institution (Chrissie Chau) get repeatedly pregnant and lose her child always on the same lunar date when their DNA tests have made quite clear that nobody who comes in contact with her can be the father? And why have all the stillbirths exactly the same DNA?

The film will explain all in a long and complicated flashback sequence with undeclared flashbacks inside of the flashbacks for maximum confusion.

Turns out that the woman's name is Zoe, and that she was once working as a hospital nurse. There, she had ample opportunity to have an affair with the young, nasty doctor Joseph (Chris Lai) who just happens to be married. Joseph is the careful type of arsehole and gives Zoe her contraceptive shots himself, so that nothing can disturb his comfortable life with Zoe on one hand and his wife Winnie (Koni Lui), who just happens to be the one who paid for his studies, on the other. Of course, whatever he may wish for, there will be pregnancies in his future.

In a not very related side plot, the film shows the misadventures of Zoe's father Lok (Lam Suet). Lok runs an interesting kind of scam, using the ghost of a dead baby to spy on people seeking his help as a fortune teller. With his special ghostly assistant, his advice looks quite a lot more useful than it actually is. Still, he is not satisfied with the performance of the ghost. Would you believe that the damn thing doesn't even eat the placentas Lok buys from Zoe without a good whipping!?

Lok's experience with ghosts comes in less handy than you would think when Zoe suddenly gets regular visits from an angry girl ghost who later proceeds to crawl into her womb.

Dennis Law's Womb Ghost is a rather confusing film. While the plot will make sense (well, more or less) in the end, the way Law throws random flashbacks and flashbacks inside of flashbacks around sabotages the film as a narrative, even for a viewer who is as little plot-oriented as I am.

The film's also not playing fair with its own time line, to be better able to surprise its viewers with one or two plot twists it couldn't use otherwise. Of course, lying to one's audience only works under certain, artfully constructed circumstances or will just get annoying at best, infuriating at worst. In Womb Ghosts' case, Law's disregard for the trust between audience and director mostly adds to the confusion of the narrative; to produce a worse effect, the film's plot or characters would have to be a bit more interesting than they actually are.

That's not even the last problematic aspect of the film's script. There's also the fact that there just isn't much of import happening during the course of the film. The melodramatic scenes plainly don't work, and you could cut out the whole side plot concerning Lam Suet without doing the main plot line any harm. Then, of course, the film would only be fifty minutes long.

Ironically, Lam Suet's superfluous scenes are also the most interesting and effective of the film. This is mainly thanks to the actor's visible joy in hamming it up and the fact that the film has some of its best Hong Kong horror moments when he is on screen. It's been a while since I have seen a film from Hong Kong going this excitedly for the gross-out and the breaking of taboos, with icky things having to do with dead babies, a child-whipping scene and a few other bits and bobs bound to make the viewer decidedly uncomfortable.

Alas, I was also feeling quite uncomfortable with the performances of the rest of the cast. While they aren't exactly bad, they are very obviously models at the very beginning of a new acting career; certainly nice to look at and trying to act, but not yet at a point where they can rescue an unfocused mess of a script like this one.

I'm glad when a Hong Kong movie is still trying to go to the nasty places that made me fall in love with HK horror, but I'm not too sure that bad taste foetus stuff is enough to recommend a movie.



Pauline said...

Wait a minute. Is this your little tribute to those of us celebrating Mothers' Day across the pond? You are wacky, my friend.

houseinrlyeh said...

Never let it be said I'm not topical.