“Nightmare” is a film immediately of interest as one of the rare horror efforts to emerge from Mainland China, where pretty much anything even vaguely supernatural is frowned upon by the notoriously strict censors. Trying to serve up the scares despite the rules and regulations is veteran Hong Kong genre director Yip Wai Ying, responsible for several entries in the lengthy “Troublesome Night” series, with a cast that includes actress Zhou Xianxin (“Gao Kao 1977”), Victor Huang, Wu Jianfei (“The Prince of Tennis 2”) and Twins’ Gillian Chung (“The Fantastic Water Babies”) along with fellow popstar Kenny Kwan of Boy’z fame.
Zhou Xianxin takes the lead as a young doctor called Fang Lei, who suffers from violent dreams and suspects that she might be a sleepwalker, haunted by memories of her parents’ deaths and stalked by the usual creepy long haired ghost girl. Things in her life get more complicated when she runs into Angel (Gillian Chung), an old friend who is now married to her own first love Zhou Feng (Wu Jianfei). After Zhou Feng disappears, with foul play suspected, and her visions get worse, poor Fang Lei starts to lose control, with only her neighbour, interior designer and all round handyman Wang Quan (Victor Huang) seeming to take her side.
All things considered, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that despite its patently spooky premise, “Nightmare” focuses mainly on themes of madness and manipulation as opposed to actual horror. Although this inevitably does dent the film’s effectiveness when it comes to scares and shriek scenes, director Yip Wai Ying is enough of an experienced old hand to still be able to work in a fair amount of sinister goings on, even if most of the shocks tend to appear in dream sequences or are clearly marked as visions. Perhaps as a result, the film does have the feel of one of the later, non-anthology “Troublesome Night” outings, for the most part relying largely on atmosphere and unease, with only a few jump scares thrown in here and there. On the plus side the need for pleasing both the censor and the thrill seeking audience occasionally makes the plot reasonably unpredictable and inventive, and while the rather chaotic film rarely makes any sense, it holds the interest and offers up a decent amount of fun during its short running time.
Zhou Xianxin is fine as the tormented Fang Lei, and manages to make her a half sympathetic protagonist, even if she does tend to whine a bit too much when things get tough. The rest of the cast, Gillian Chung included, don’t have a great deal to do apart from stand around and watch her fall apart, though pretty much all of them at one stage or another are involved in amusing red herring style subplots. Yip Wai Ying certainly doesn’t waste too much time on the film’s relationships, and this fits with its pseudo-psychological approach and ensures that there’s very little in the way of time wasting filler material.
Although none of this ever amounts to anything truly gripping, “Nightmare” is a solid time passer, with a sprinkling of chills and odd plotting adding up to a modestly enjoyable hour and a half. Above average compared to other recent half horrors, it should certainly be of interest to anyone following the development of Mainland Chinese genre cinema, or perhaps fans of Gillian Chung keen to see the actress continuing her career comeback.
Yip Wai Ying (director)
CAST: Gillian Chung