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I would be curious to learn who was it that decided that all Hong Kong horror films must be shot with a somber green tint. I would also be curious to learn who made Shock Flashes — where the audience is treated to a flash of horrific images for about a split-second accompanied by shrieking loud music — a mandatory gimmick in horror films. All of the above leads me to this conclusion: I dearly wish horror filmmakers would snap out of their sheepish mentality and break with tradition. It’s become so tedious and predictable to the point of being embarrassing.
Having said the above, 2002’s “New Blood” is as predictable and clich’ as they come. Our tale opens with the attempted suicide of two young lovers, one of whom is dying of cancer. Into their private little Idaho stumbles cop Lok (Bernard Chow), who whisks the couple off to the hospital. There, the woman dies, but the man is saved thanks to timely blood donations by good Samaritans Lok, architect Eric (Cyrus Chow), and the troubled Joy (Niki Chow). But as soon as the threesome leaves the hospital, they realize that something supernatural has followed them. It seems that suicide victim Yau (Winnie Leung) has become one royally ticked off spirit, determined to get back at the people who kept her boyfriend from joining her in the afterlife.
Despite all of its kowtowing to the conventions of its genre, “New Blood” is actually better than it has any right to be. The movie has a capable cast, and co-writer/director Soi Cheang pulls off some slick camera shots — at least when he’s free of the constraints of his genre. Unfortunately much of the film depends too much on familiar ground, such as the many Shock Flashes and the appearance of the ghost herself, who looks like a very pale and pissed off Sinead O’Connor. Are we really supposed to be scared of a bald woman wearing an ill-fitting white gown? I think not.
Of the cast, only Niki Chow is a veteran of the acting game, with both of her fellow Chows, Bernard and Cyrus, newcomers. All three do capable jobs, although Niki Chow is obviously the star. The lovely actress plays the spacey Joy, who is not only two quarts short of a full mental breakdown, but also has the bad luck to have a total jerk for a doctor. Running at just under 90 minutes, the film fails to give either Lok or Eric enough screentime. Instead, Eric quickly becomes insane by Yau’s persistent haunting (including the death of a co-worker and a Catholic priest who confronted the ghost on Eric’s behalf).
Lok, on the other hand, has almost nothing to do, even though the character has a big part in the movie’s Big Twist. Like so many horror films of late, the perception of reality is put into question, a theme of “is it real or imagined?” that “Inner Senses” played up on. But like another Hong Kong horror film (“Visible Secret”), “New Blood’s” Big Twist comes across as perfunctory rather than anything fully thought up. After all, what self-respecting “clever” horror/thriller doesn’t have a Big Twist in this day and age? I shudder to think!
“New Blood” works when it remains focused on its characters. Niki Chow performs admirably as the schizophrenic and easily traumatized Joy, and the screenplay’s choice to center the movie on her is a good idea. I would have liked to know more about Catholic Eric and single cop Lok, who lives with his father in a tenement building’s only inhabited apartment (ala Leon Lai in “Three”). Still, for what it is — another quickie horror flick made to cash in on the horror fad currently running rampant through the money-crazed streets of Hong Kong Cinema — “New Blood” isn’t too shabby.
Perhaps speaking to the film’s need to leave the ghost hidden, “New Blood’s” most effective scene is toward the end when Yau whispers to Joy in an attempt to cajole her into committing murder. The sequence employs terrific knowledge of audio and provides the film with its one and only chilling sequence. “New Blood” is a moderately budgeted horror film, and even though it doesn’t feature any CGI or expensive effects, director Cheang’s skills with the camera and a skillful editor are more than enough to give the film much needed visual flairs. Despite the garish somber green tinting, the movie is visually pleasing.
Now if only Hong Kong directors would break out of their sheepish rut and stop with the bloody somber green tints already…
Soi Cheang (director) / Soi Cheang (screenplay)
CAST: Bernard Chow … Lok
Cyrus Chow … Eric
Niki Chow … Joy
Winnie Leung … Yau Yin-Ping