“The Haunting Lover” sees popular Taiwanese boy band F4 member Vanness Wu taking his first stab at horror, again teaming with Ken Yip, who recently directed him in “Kung Fu Fighter” and “Kung Fu Chefs”. As suggested by the title, the film is a romantically themed supernatural affair about tragic loss, with Wu in a love triangle of sorts with Jacqueline Li (also in “Blood Brothers”) and former Japanese girl group Morning Musume member Kago Ai (who previously starred with him in “Kung Fu Chefs”). Adding a touch of genre respectability is the one and only Law Lan, instantly recognisable to Hong Kong horror fans for her countless appearances in creepy granny roles, as well as playing the immortal Mrs. Bud in pretty much all of the later instalments in the never ending “Troublesome Night” series.
Set in Guangzhou back in the 1940s, the film sees Wu as Leung Kwong, a simple and downtrodden young man, who is desperate to find work so that he can save up enough money to marry his sweetheart Hsiao Chen (Kago Ai). Things seem to be looking up when he manages to get a job at a local medicine factory, until he realises that he only got the job due to his uncanny resemblance to the owner’s youngest son, who has been missing for some ten years. Odd and inexplicable incidents begin to befall him, and he starts to have flashbacks to what appears to be a past life, seemingly inspired by the appearances of a mysterious, beautiful woman called Fu Yong (Jacqueline Li) who may actually be a ghost. After finding himself falling for the sorrowful spirit, Leung Kwong heads to Singapore to try and find out the truth behind his doppelganger’s disappearance, all the while slowly taking on his role.
Although most fans of Hong Kong romantic ghost cinema will probably be able to work out exactly where “The Haunting Lover” is headed, there is definitely something to be said for its old fashioned charms. The story itself has a certain innocence, and whilst it all plays out pretty much as expected until its muddled twist ending, it makes for pleasant enough viewing. Director Yip certainly puts a lot of effort into generating an other-worldly atmosphere, and generally succeeds, making the most out of the film’s modest production values. With the emphasis being on mystery and romance, there are very few scares, which is probably for the best, since the film’s computer effects tend to be rather cheap looking, if at least imaginative.
The film is at its best during the extended flashbacks and scenes set in the past, mainly since they give Wu the chance to play a more normal, suave character as the missing son. This is actually no small benefit to the young actor, and indeed to the film, since Leung Kwong is really quite a bizarre role, seemingly bordering on being mentally handicapped and usually reduced to doing daft things and pulling wide eyed shock faces. On the plus side this does make for some moments of great hilarity, though it does little for the film’s dramatic momentum. As a result, the relationship between Wu’s young master and Fu Yong is far more believable and affecting that that between the dopey Leung Kwong and the patient Hsiao Chen. This does make the film more of a supernatural mystery than a romance, though it does have a certain air of tragedy during its latter stages.
Still, this isn’t too much of a criticism, and Yip keeps “The Haunted Lover” intriguing and moving along at a fair clip. Although it’s clearly no “Rouge”, the film’s main appeal is its casting, and Vanness Wu fans will probably be happy enough with at least one of his two performances. For genre aficionados, the presence of Law Lan, along with the pleasant overall sense of rather mild chills and ingenuous ghostliness should make it worthwhile, serving as a reminder of the spiritual romances of the past.
Wing Kin Yip (director)
CAST: Ai Kago … Hsiao Chen
Xiaolu Li … Fu Rong
Vanness Wu … Leung Kwong