“Mysterious Island” from director Chung Kai Cheung (who worked on “A-1 Headline” with Gordon Chan) is probably best described as a supernaturally themed thriller, though this may be pushing things a bit due to some of the film’s more bewildering elements. Headlined by Hong Kong star Jordan Chan and rising Chinese idol Mini Yang, the film has a supporting cast that includes Hayama Hiro (recently in the awesome “Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy”), Shaun Tam, and Wong Yau Nam and Tsui Tin Yau of Shine fame, with impressive eye candy in the form of Janel Tsai, Maggie Lee, Jessica Xu, and Anya. Perhaps due to films of its type being increasingly rare in Chinese cinema, the film was a huge hit at the Mainland box office, managing to stand proudly alongside high profile summer blockbuster releases like “Wu Xia” and other big budget epics.
The flimsy plot follows a random collection of 8 guys and girls who are whisked by boat to a supposedly deserted island for a reality television game show that pits them against each other in the search for treasure. After an accident with the boat they find themselves stranded, but decide to push ahead and explore the island, carrying on with the game regardless. Soon though, they discover that the place has a sinister history, housing an old leper hospital, and when the contestants start disappearing or turning up dead, they come to the conclusion that they are up against the angry ghosts of its past inhabitants
It’s kind of hard to know where to start with “Mysterious Island”, as there hasn’t been a film this bafflingly far out and exquisitely entertaining for quite some time. Certainly, it’s genuinely difficult to remember anything else this demented, as the film really pushes the boundaries of gleeful ineptitude so far as to suspect that Chung Kai Cheung might well have planned the whole thing as an elaborate hoax. Pretty much nothing makes any sense whatsoever, with the whole reality show concept only serving to raise pointed questions as to why there are no facilities on the island, no cameras, and indeed why there seems to have been no planning or level of corporate involvement whatsoever – despite an utterly incongruous opening scene of a ghostly flashback and then an old rich guy in a wheelchair being pushed around by a hot nurse muttering to his television producer son to keep off the island (none of whom are seen or referred to again).
Another intriguing question likely to trouble more sensible viewers is the lack of any language barrier problems between the cast of crazed stereotypes, with characters alternately speaking to each other in Mandarin, Cantonese, English, and even Japanese. Hats off to Hayama Hiro for his joyfully blood thirsty and over the top performance, though unsurprisingly, it’s Jordan Chan who is most likely to leave jaws on the floor with his ranting and raving.
This really is the least of the film’s countless confusions, and with the whole supernatural angle coming and going throughout, Chung seeming to take great delight in keeping the viewer in a state of absolute bemusement as to whether or not the island really is haunted. One possible reason for this, and perhaps a motivation for the film being constructed as a cinematic prank, is the Chinese censors and their notoriously hard line stance against the depiction of ghosts – though even they would be hard pressed to really have a clue what was going on. This does make for some wonderfully random scenes, and the film gets a great deal of comedy mileage from its bizarre parade of fake scares.
In terms of direction, the film is a real treasure trove of possibly purposeful incompetence, with Chung shooting the whole thing like some kind of insane reject from the 1980s, employing a weirdly kinetic and repetitive visual style, lots of weird and suggestively meaningful close-ups and odd music video editing techniques. This is made even more amusing by the fact that the soundtrack and what the characters are saying quite often seems to diverge violently from what is happening on screen. The best and funniest example of this is an apparent wild boar attack, which consists of rustling bushes, the entire cast running and screaming and falling down hills, while shots are inserted of a single, red eyed, madly twitching pig puppet that seems to be in an entirely different location or film. This scene is wholly representative of the film as a whole, with the special effects being hilariously shoddy, the CGI frequently feeling completely disconnected from the action.
Again given the influence of the censors, the film doesn’t feature much graphic content aside from a few flashes of blood, though this actually works in its favour, as the fact that it’s genuinely hard to tell whether some characters are dead or not provides viewers with a neat and fun guessing game. The film receives a similar boost from its dedication to packing in lots of coy semi nudity and cleavage shots, for which Jessica Xu should in particular take a bow (and often does), stripping down to bikinis and tight tank tops for no reason, and with the rest of the gorgeous female cast spending much of the running time taking showers or stripping off behind strategically placed objects.
All of this combines to make “Mysterious Island” arguably one of the most entertaining Chinese films of the last few years, at least for open minded audiences willing to look beyond the traditional norms of cinematic quality. Coming across like one of the later “Troublesome Night” franchise entries on acid, the film has an incredible amount to offer, and is only likely to grow more entertaining on repeated viewings.
Kai Cheung Chung (director)
CAST: Jordan Chan
Mini Yang … Shen Yi Lin
Tien You Chui