Although 2003’s “Shiver” is more Serial Killer/Murder Mystery than Horror movie, that doesn’t stop the distributors from trying to lure audiences in with false advertisement. Even the movie’s poster, showcasing severed heads inside body bags, gives off vibes that we’re in for another horror film where a female character has a stroke of bad luck resulting in the attribution of a curse by way of ghostly visitations. Although it seems to be taking its cues from “The Eye”, “Shiver” is actually closer to David Fincher’s “Seven” — but with a quirky sense of humor.
“Shiver” stars Francis Ng (“Infernal Affairs 2”) as Chen Ming, who as the film opens is driving wife Sammi (Athena Chu) to her new homestead since the couple has just signed divorce papers. Throughout the scene, Sammi is badgering Chen about his inattentive nature, which he responds by being…inattentive. En route, cop Chen spots a bank robbery in progress, and ends up getting involved in a shootout smack dab in the middle of traffic, despite his ex-wife’s pleas to stay out of it. Caught in the crossfire is Sammi, who ends up in the hospital and, post-hospital stay, discovers that she’s not only being visited by a “woman in white”, but that she can “see” murders as they happen.
But fear not, Hong Kong aficionados, because “Shiver” is not “The Eye”-lite — something even I cringed at, as it seemed like “Shiver” was heading in that well-tread direction. Director Billy Chung (“My Schoolmate the Barbarian”) and the movie’s writer(s) seem keenly aware of how their film will be sold to the general populace, which may explain why “Shiver’s” ghostly elements — of which there are surprisingly very few — are played as more figments of Sammi’s imagination than actual supernatural happenings. Even though Sammi keeps insisting to her doubtful husband that a “woman in white” is stalking her around their apartment, Chung’s camera never actually captures any such person. The spirit, rather she actually exists or not, is always kept just out of camera range, allowing the audience to use their imagination.
Of course the film’s Third Act, which hits around the hour mark in this 85-minute movie, points out the film’s real genre. Any remnants of a faux ghost story goes out the window in favor of a traditional Serial Killer movie, complete with a clever killer with very personal reasons for involving cop Chen in his/her bloody shenanigans. “Shiver” is never scary and most of its horror elements are executed as if to conform to expectations rather than an honest attempt at anything scary. Actually, Chung and company seems to be using the familiarity audiences have with Asian horror conventions to their advantage. Heck, they even throw in dark black hair and water, a sure sign that you’re watching an Asian Ghost Story — or are you?
As the lead, Francis Ng does a fine job as the quirky Detective who dresses like he’s vacationing Hawaii’s sandy beaches instead of investigating the legless body of a famous athlete or the faceless corpse of an infamous actress. Ng’s Chen is not completely sympathetic, as he seems utterly insensitive to the needs of his ailing wife and seems wholly absent-minded throughout the film. But there’s no denying that the man was born to play these parts. Meanwhile, female lead Athena Chu seems to waver from looking somberly attractive to ghostly plain, depending on how Chung frames her in close-up in any given scene. She does okay, although working against the effortless Ng, Chu seems to be trying too hard.
What’s worth nothing about “Shiver” is that it’s a murder mystery with one of those off-kilter vibes that makes it more than run-of-the-mill. For instance, it’s never really explained (and perhaps that’s part of the “joke”?) why Detective Ng’s subordinates and fellow Detectives are essentially high school kids with guns. Shiu Hung Hui (“Running Out of Time”) shows up in a familiar role as Ng’s wacky superior, who is more concern with forcing Ng to take care of his dog in case of his untimely death than investigating the current string of murders. Nick Cheung (“The Duel”) plays a doctor who cares for Sammi, even when it seems as if her husband could care less about her well-being.
To be honest, I entertained a notion that “Shiver” was yet another in a long line of assembly-like horror films currently being churned out by the Hong Kong film industry when I first came across the movie. The cover, as previously mentioned, helped to solidify this expectation. But evidence of a leading turn by Francis Ng helped lure me to the film, otherwise I’m almost certain “Shiver” might have sat on my desk for another month or so. I’m glad it didn’t, because although it’s not a film of spectacular quality, there’s enough about “Shiver” to recommend.
FYI: The attentive viewer might notice that “Shiver” does not sport a gloomy green tint from the first scene on; thus it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that there’s no horror film to be found here.
Billy Chung (director)
CAST: Francis Ng …. Chen Ming
Athena Chu …. Sammi
Shiu Hung Hui
Tiffany Lee …. Zhou Kit-Yu