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Danny Pang returns with “In Love With the Dead”, his latest solo effort away from brother Oxide, and a film which sees him trying something slightly different from the usual ghostly shenanigans for which he is so well known. Of late, the Pangs’ supernatural films, whether working together or separately, have been rather patchy in quality, with their less than stellar Hollywood debut “The Messengers” and Danny’s lacklustre “Forest of Death”, and so the idea of him taking a stab at a more character driven drama is certainly promising.
After the unfortunate Wai (Stephy Tang also in “Love is Not All Around”) is diagnosed with cancer, her loving, loyal boyfriend Ming (heart-throb actor Shawn Yue, recently in action blockbuster “Invisible Target”) swears to take care of her. Inevitably, this proves to be a difficult task, not least since she soon starts acting very strangely, lurking around in their dark flat all day. Disturbed and depressed, Ming falls into the arms of attractive co-worker Fong (Yoka Yue), resulting in even more angst. Living with Ming and Wai is her younger sister Ping, (young actress Zeng Qiqi, who also starred in the Pangs’ “Re-cycle”) who one day remarks that the poor woman looks like a ghost from the horror comics she loves reading. From then on, things take a turn for the sinister, as Ming begins to suspect that she may well be right.
As might be expected for a film dealing with terminal illness, “In Love With the Dead” is a pretty gloomy affair, for the first half at least, with plenty of agonising, pining and tortured silences. However, although the relationships in the film are believably awkward and unconventional, they are curiously emotionless despite Pang’s best efforts to underline every supposedly moving scene with soaring sappy music. Much of this is down to the fact that there is little chemistry between any of the stars, with Ping easily being the most sympathetic character, from whose perspective the best parts of the film are seen.
To be fair, and since all of the cast turn in decent performances, it is likely that Pang was aiming for a subtle rather than overtly melodramatic approach, though the film’s romantic triangle never really clicks, and as a result the first forty-five minutes or so do tend to drag. This is offset somewhat by a few weird though essentially pointless and misleading events thrown in to spice things up, and a potentially fascinating but woefully undeveloped theme regarding the clash between modern Western-style and traditional Chinese medicine, though even these aren’t quite enough to keep the viewer truly engaged. By this point, the film comes across as little more than an even more low key and slow moving companion piece to brother Oxide’s “Diary” (which also starred Yue in another tale of ambiguous hauntings), with worryingly little reason to suspect things will improve.
Thankfully, things pick up immeasurably around the halfway mark after little Ping makes her amusing observation. Certainly, Pang is far more comfortable with the film’s supernatural and more leftfield elements, and the pace picks up immediately as it bursts into crazed life with lots of cheap scares and ghostly red herrings. The gloomy, ominous atmosphere, which had until then only served to slow the proceedings down even further, comes to the fore and quite suddenly makes sense, as do several previously innocuous seeming plot points which are now exploited for far more suitable purpose.
The question asked earlier in the film “would you do silly things for your beloved?” is finally answered with a resolute ‘yes’, as the plot takes all manner of wacky turns in the lead up to the ghoulish triple twist ending, none of which make much sense, but all of which are highly entertaining. As such, although it is hard to take some of the scares and supposedly sinister occurrences seriously, and the film never comes across as a particularly coherent whole, these latter stages are very enjoyable.
Given this sudden shift in tone, its hard not to think that “In Love With the Dead” would have benefited considerably had the leaden opening stages been trimmed, or indeed that the whole affair would have worked better as the kind of madcap ghost comedy so popular in Hong Kong during the 1980s – which the film basically resembles aside from its needlessly po-faced approach. However, thanks mainly to a hysterical second half it remains an entertaining and worthwhile slice of supernatural soap opera, which does at least show Pang attempting to branch out somewhat.
Danny Pang (director) / Danny Pang, Thomas Pang (screenplay)
CAST: Shawn Yue … Ming
Stephy Tang … Wai
Yoka Yue … Fong
Yaqi Zeng … Ping