Law Chi Leung, once thought of as one of Hong Kong’s most promising directors after the likes of “Inner Senses”, “Koma” and “Kidnap”, returns for his first film since 2007 with “Curse of the Deserted”. The film itself is somewhat noteworthy for being a rare Mainland Chinese excursion into the horror genre, based upon a novel by Cai Jun, whose “The Deserted Inn” and “Naraka 19” have previously been adapted for the screen, albeit with varying results. The film stars the incredibly hard working Shawn Yue (“Love in a Puff”), marking his sixth big screen appearance in 2010, with support from the gorgeous Kitty Zhang (“Jump”) as the female lead.
Without wishing to give too much away since the film is a vaguely twisty affair, Yue plays a novelist called Guo Jing in Beijing, who has recently published a popular romantic ghost story called ‘The Village’. The yarn proves popular, and a group of college kids set off to try and find its mysterious mansion, hoping to discover the truth behind its legend of a spirit called Rouge, who apparently curses couples who are not truly in love. Although Guo tries to warn them, they soon fall foul of a series of weird events, and he himself is troubled by sinister emails from someone calling herself Rouge. This actually turns out to be his ex-girlfriend Gigi (Kitty Zhang), who is rather annoyed at him having written about their real life romance in the book. When it appears that the curse has been passed to Guo, he and Gigi head off to the village to try and uncover its secrets.
“Curse of the Deserted” is actually a far more oddball film than might have been expected, no doubt as a result of trying to provide supernatural thrills whilst still appeasing the notoriously anti-ghoulish Chinese censors. The film certainly tries to cover both bases, throwing in a weird mix of traditional genre riffs such as possession, curses, magic mirrors and wronged female spirits, along with some fairly far out possible scientific explanations including EM waves and magnetic fields. With the plot and the whole curse premise becoming increasingly muddled as things develop, though it comes across as wilfully vague and non-committal rather than ambiguous, the film does have a rather different feel. This also translates into some pretty bizarre character behaviour, such as a scene where not long after arriving at the mansion, the students find their bags and torches stuck to the walls like magnets. In defiance of common sense, one of them proceeds to try and use the torches to scale his way across the ceiling, only, unsurprisingly, to plummet to the ground below.
This mix works quite well to generate a few nutty ideas, and though the film rarely makes any sense at all it does entertain. Director Law does manage to get away with a bit more than most other Mainland ghost films in that a few people actually do die, with there being a few shock scenes and splashes of blood, not to mention bat attacks, lots of red eyes and people bleeding from their ears. Whilst none of this is actually frightening, it helps to keep things moving along, and does manage to tick most of the genre boxes. Certainly, the film’s combination of ghosts and science works better than its relationship subplot, which slows things down during the middle section and never really engages, partly due to an overuse of irrelevant flashbacks. In spite of this, both Yue and Zhang do their best with their characters, and do manage to give their relationship an amusingly understated feel, his Guo being a melancholy but decent fellow, and her kooky Gigi spending half of her scenes swigging from a bottle. Its worth noting for fans of the stars that both have a few semi-unclothed scenes, with Yue stripping off for the showers and Zhang going for an entirely gratuitous wet shirt swimming pool session.
Law is still one of the more talented Chinese directors, and shows a fairly strong visual style. The film is visually very handsome, making good use of the rural scenery, filled with misty old villages, strange rock formations and dark caves, thankfully enhanced with just a few touches of reasonable CGI. The production values are good, and the film as a whole has a kind of pale, cold, washed out look which fits its themes very well, and even during its scenes in the city it has an isolated and deserted air. A few arty shots help to generate an eerie atmosphere, and the film is certainly better and more professional looking than other recent Mainland genre productions.
This, plus its star power leading duo and the general air of oddness give “Curse of the Deserted” a boost and make it much more enjoyable than it might otherwise have been. As things stand, although not exactly a classic of the form, given the recent dearth of Chinese ghost films, it should certainly be entertaining enough for enthusiasts – at least until the dreadful last scene, when a groan inducing twist is likely to make viewers of any persuasion wish they had turned it off precisely three minutes earlier.
Chi-Leung Law (director) / Chi Kwong Cheung (screenplay)
CAST: Shawn Yue … Gene
Kitty Zhang Yuqi … Gigi