Although sold as a Supernatural Horror film, the new Jordan Chan movie “Sleeping with the Dead” actually works better as a Drama. For one thing, the supernatural premise behind “Sleeping” is a retread of the Kevin Bacon film “Stir of Echoes”, involving a vengeful female spirit that comes back from the grave to exact bloody revenge on her perpetrators. (Hint: The two films involve girls and walls.) It’s interesting to note that the vast majority of horror films currently being put out by Asian filmmakers are, more often than not, about vengeful female spirits. (Perhaps a continent is taking the whole “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorn” saying a bit too far, eh?)
Jordan Chan (“Bio Zombie”) takes a mature turn in “Sleeping with the Dead” as David, a doctor who can, in the tradition of recent Hong Kong horror fare, see dead people. Or at least that’s the premise. Actually, David doesn’t see all that many dead people; in the course of the movie, I counted David’s unearthly visitations to be 3. Beyond those times, the ghosts that do appear to David are seen by everyone else as well, so it wouldn’t be correct to say David is special, even though the movie seems to think so.
At its heart, “Sleeping” wants to be about David coming to grips with his wife Jane, who he suspects of having an affair, and his own inability to enjoy life and be happy. But since the title has “dead” in it, the movie is forced to bring in an investigation into a series of ghostly slayings. “Sleeping” would have been wise to stick to the dramatics and leave the weak stab at horror alone. The movie’s ghost showdown features bad blood sfx and a skeletal dummy, which leads to the inevitable conclusion that “Sleeping” just doesn’t want to be a horror film.
Although there’s nothing remotely scary about “Sleeping”, there is something nice about David’s relationship with Cindy (Kelly Lin), a mysterious and alluring woman who he meets at a nightclub. Cindy can see the unhappiness in David’s life, and wants to change it, although she admits that she might leave him without notice. Unfortunately their love affair only adds to the realization that “Sleeping” is a very poor horror film that should have stuck to being a Drama.
“Sleeping with the Dead” is an appropriate title, but this is only realized at the end of the film. For much of the movie, I kept wondering what the title meant, since David doesn’t do much “seeing” of dead people, nor does he do a lot of investigating the ghostly deaths. The latter is left up to Simon Loui, who also wrote the screenplay and looks just as unhappy to be involved in the whole ghost thing. Loui plays a detective name Iron Cheung, who is also a childhood friend of David. It seems that the victims of the ghost are old friends of David and Cheung, and the killings may have something to do with a female friend who went missing years ago. And oh, all the guys are getting killed on their birthday, and Cheung’s day of celebration is coming up fast.
The shocking revelation of “Sleeping” can be seen a mile away by anyone paying attention, and normally I would be irritated at this lack of subtlety in the screenplay. I say “normally” because I wasn’t irritated at all this time around. Why? Because “Sleeping” is such a bad mystery and weak ghost story that I could care less why the ghost was killing men and pulling out their left eyeballs. I could also care less why the victims started to manifest scars before their deaths. The film has so little interest in making the mystery and horror elements original or effective, I in turn had little interest in caring.
The only good spots of “Sleeping with the Dead” is Kelly Lin (“Running Out of Time 2″), who provides a nice, cheerful counterbalance to Jordan Chan’s brooding portrayal of David. Chan’s acting style seems to be predicated on his belief that if he’s playing an adult character he has to brood and look serious and emotionless. It doesn’t work, and because the film spends so much time with the frowning Chan, there is almost no energy to the movie whatsoever. Wake up, Jordan!
As a whole, “Sleeping with the Dead” looks cheap, and even Kelly Lin’s exuberant presence can’t save it. The screenplay by Simon Loui lacks any sort of scare and doesn’t seem to have any enthusiasm for what’s going on. And even though Wai-Man Cheung’s direction is sometimes inspired, it’s mostly too by the numbers. For a better horror movie, try the frightful “The Eye” with Angelica Lee, or even the generic South Korean Ghost Story movie “Phone”, which also happens to involve girls and walls.
Wai-Man Cheng (director) / Simon Loui (screenplay)
CAST: Jordan Chan …. David
Kelly Lin …. Cindy
Simon Loui …. Iron Cheung