Don’t let “Visible Secret” fool you — it’s less of a horror movie than it is a clever comedy and touching human drama. Qi Shu, last seen seeing ghosts in 2002’s “Haunted Office”, was actually seeing ghosts a year earlier in 2001’s “Visible Secret”. Shu stars as June, a young woman who, for no obvious reason, can see ghosts — but only with her left eye! Eason Chan (“Hit Team 2”) is the hapless schlep that happens to fall madly in love with her at first sight, only to learn that his new love interest has weird mood swings and is emotionally draining. And oh yeah, there are ghostly problems afoot whenever she’s around. What’s a jobless guy in love to do?
As mentioned, “Visible Secret” isn’t really a horror movie at all. At the most it’s a supernatural mystery. But horror? Not in the least. As is the case with all Hong Kong horror films of late, director Ann Hui and cinematographer Arthur Wong (“Double Vision”) covers “Visible Secret” in shades of somber colors like dark green and moody blues. Anyone who has seen any amount of Hong Kong’s version of what a horror movie should look like will feel right at home with the color schemes employed here. Which leads me to this observation: it seems as if veteran director Ann Hui is keenly aware of her movie’s generic pedigree, which may explain the film’s real interest — comedy and drama.
The plot is unimportant, and the movie’s resolution is so abrupt and anti-climactic that it comes across as somewhat pointless. In a nutshell: A headless ghost is wandering the streets of Hong Kong possessing people and looking for his missing head. Or is he? Only June knows for sure, and she’s not talking. Or at least, not talking coherently. Which makes dating her kind of dangerous, as Peter finds out when his apartment keeps being painted red by unknown forces. Also, later in the movie Peter gets possessed by the headless ghost and assaults his roommate Sam Lee (“Beast Cops”), doing a semi-serious turn here — even if his hair says otherwise. Actually, Peter’s confusion over June’s erratic behavior only means he’s sort of an idiot, since even the most dull viewer will have guessed the movie’s “big twist” at around the 50-minute mark (and that’s being very generous).
Perhaps the whole point of “Visible Secret’s” oddball feel is because Ann Hui and writer Abe Kwong knows they’re not trying to pull off anything different. Maybe they too have noticed the rash of “Sixth Sense” copycats saturating the Hong Kong market, counting among its victims “Haunted Office”, “The Eye”, “Sleeping with the Dead”, “Inner Senses”, and about a dozen more that I have (thankfully) missed. Maybe this is why “Visible Secret” is more quirky comedy and sight gags than anything else. One inspired sequence that deserves mention involves Simon (Lee) and Peter and a parked taxicab. The exchange between the roommates and the cabbie concerning the currently unmoving state of the taxicab is riotously funny.
Credit for the movie’s terrific timing goes to leads Eason Chan and Qi Shu, but especially the average-looking Chan, whose character is a cross between a hopeless slacker and a hopeless slacker who can’t keep a job. Chan’s Peter is a “hair stylist”, the only profession he knows — except he’s not very good at it. His one “style” is the “bowl style”, which unfortunately only works if his clients are blind. Qi Shu also shows up in Goth clothes, and it probably comes as no surprise that I find her, even in dark eyeliners and black lipstick, to be strangely attractive. But having said that, there is no question that the movie belongs to Chan, who carries the film like a champ.
“Visible Secret” breaks rank from its brethrens by offering up an emotional side, especially in Peter’s relationship with his ill and dying father (James Wong). Whenever the movie takes time off from its silly ghost story to concentrate on Peter’s familial entanglements (of which there are much too few), the movie really hits its stride.
As a comedy and drama, “Visible Secret” is a stellar piece of filmmaking. But as a ghost story — which is what it’s being sold as — it’s a minor failure, including its silly plot twist at the end. Worst, apparently the filmmakers must have thought they were a lot more clever than they actually were, because we get a scene — essentially the explanation for the big twist — that is just painfully written and executed.
Ignore the dreadful final 2 minutes and “Visible Secret” is a rare gem.
Ann Hui (director) / Abe Kwong (screenplay)
CAST: Eason Chan …. Peter
Qi Shu …. June
Sam Lee …. Simon
James Wong …. Peter’s Father