The Hong Kong motto is, “If it sells tickets, copy it ad nauseam until it no longer sells tickets.” As a result of that motto, 2002 has been the Year of the Ghosts — or, to be more precise, the Year of People Seeing Ghosts. Finally jumping on the “I see dead people” bandwagon 3 years after M. Night Shyamalan made seeing ghost cool with “The Sixth Sense”, Hong Kong has delivered a spate of similar movies in the previous year. “The Eye” had Angelica Lee seeing ghosts after a cornea implant; “Sleeping With the Dead” had Jordan Chan literally sleeping with not one, but two ghosts; and then there were the “I see dead people but it’s funny!” movies.
“Inner Senses” stars the late Leslie Cheung as Jim, a psychiatrist who gets referred a troubled young woman (Karena Lam) who claims persistent ghosts are haunting her. More psychological thriller than actual horror, “Inner Senses” attempts to burst out of the I See Dead People genre by offering up a psychological explanation for the whole ghost phenomenon. In short order it’s proven that Karena Lam’s Yan is troubled not by ghosts, but by her own past, and once she’s able to defeat her own demons, she no longer needs to “see” ghosts to make up for it.
To be honest, “Inner Senses” is a somewhat deceitful film. It opens as a standard I See Dead People movie, with ghosts popping up all over the place to freak out poor Yan. But as soon as Cheung’s Jim enters the picture, we are told in no uncertain terms that all of the supernatural elements have an explanation, and it’s all a matter of digging deep into the psyche to locate the issue and then confront it. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the explanations are very well thought out, but they are quite interesting. Is our perception of ghosts really just stored up useless memories given shape?
The direction by Chi-Leung Law (“Double Tap”) is polished and slick, and the director keeps the film moving and nicely paced so things never get boring. The screenplay by Yeung Sin Ling offers up a couple of possible scares in the first 20 minutes, but the movie is devoid of scares from that moment on. The final 10 minutes, when one of the characters is literally chased by his past, is laughably bad and really defeats the whole purpose of the movie. Why did the filmmakers throw away the film’s psychological angle for a series of silly special effects? And really, how scary is a teenage girl in a school uniform with pizza sauce on her face?
While Karena Lam is no Angelica Lee, she does offer up a sympathetic heroine to keep us in her corner. Although the screenplay makes it a point to have other characters mention that Lam’s Yan is self-centered and a selfish drama queen, she never comes across as such. It makes you wonder if the screenplay and Karena Lam’s interpretation of the Yan character got crossed somewhere during production. Someone should have taken another look at that screenplay and made sure it matched up to the movie. Some editing, I believe, was in order.
In his last film before his unfortunate suicide earlier this month, Leslie Cheung proves that the world is going to miss his talent. The man at the center of some of the most memorable movies the Hong Kong film industry has ever produced, from John Woo’s Heroic Bloodshed movies to the breakout “Farewell My Concubine”, is dependably good here. The only problem I have is that I wish the screenplay hadn’t shown all of its cards so early in the movie. By the time the movie leaves Yan to focus on Jim, any viewer that has been paying attention knows where the next 40 minutes is going.
“Inner Senses” is not a bad movie, but it’s not anywhere near as frightening as “The Eye”. Some of the ghost make-up leaves a lot to be desired, although the movie’s psychological take on the ghost phenomenon is a welcome change to the I See Dead People genre. But through it all, one gets the feeling that “Inner Senses” never really rises to its fullest potential.
Chi-Leung Law (director)
CAST: Leslie Cheung …. Jim Law
Karena Lam …. Yan Cheung
Waise Lee ….
Valerie Chow …. Mrs. Chan