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The wonderfully titled “Womb Ghosts” is the latest effort from real-estate developer-turned director and one man Hong Kong film factory Dennis Law. With a grotesque premise that harks back to the good old days of Shaw Brothers sleazy sorcery and black magic films such as “Seeding of a Ghost”, its trailer certainly grabbed the attention and caused somewhat of an internet stir. Following on from the likes of “Bad Blood”, “A Very Short Life” and others, the film again sees the increasingly prolific Law serving up visceral entertainment in the old school Hong Kong style, pushing buttons and trying to revive the fine tradition of exploitation film making.
The plot basically revolves around two women – a bar hostess called Winnie (Koni Lui, also in Law’s “A Very Short Life”), who keeps on mysteriously suffering pregnancies and miscarriages, and Zoe (gorgeous model turned actress Chrissie Chau, also in “Short of Love” and “Split Second Murders”), a nurse trying her best to tie down her doctor lover into a proper relationship. Their lives gradually fall apart as they are tormented by strange visions and what seem to the be ghosts of small children, possibly connected to a sinister sorcerer (Lam Suet) who is trying to bend the spirits to his shabby will.
Although this synopsis may sound fairly straightforward, it’s actually quite hard to say what “Womb Ghosts” is actually about, simply because Law is not much of a story teller. The plot lacks any kind of real dramatic momentum, for the most part revolving around relationship worries and scenes of characters squabbling. Very little happens that is connected to anything else, and though Law strangely feels the need to insert a shift of sorts during the final third, which he moves on to trump with a final twist, neither have much impact. Similarly, although things do frequently threaten to boil over into hysteria, the film remains oddly detached from its characters, taking an unfocused approach that leaves the viewer unsure of who, if anyone, to root for.
With this having been a criticism levelled at Law’s other films, it perhaps comes as no surprise, and thankfully “Womb Ghosts” is rather more successful in other areas. As expected, or hoped, the film features plenty of icky scenes of foetuses and placentas being misused and abused, along with a number of classic black magic motifs such as noodles being turned into maggots. Although not particularly gory, or indeed as gruesome as the trailer seemed to promise, the film does have a few good shocks and stomach troubling moments, along with an awesome and hilarious “Omen” style unexpected death that comes out of nowhere and remains pretty much unremarked by the other characters. Law throws in a variety of surreal scenes, and while none of these are ambitious or creative, they do help to keep viewer off guard, or at least entertained. Hospitals are inherently sinister places, and the film certainly does its best to exploit this, as well as tuning into deep seated fears over child birth, and though never truly frightening, it is unsettling in places.
On the downside, some scenes are undermined by some pretty poor computer based special effects, and the ghosts could certainly have done without the “Grudge” style clicking noises and rigour mortis limb waving. This having been said, the fact that these sound effects generally bear no obvious link to what is happening onscreen does make for some solid unintentional humour, as does the way that the ghost tends to fly around from no reason at all, which funnily enough resembles a young child being whipped around in the air on wires. Law really isn’t much of a director, though he does manage to get most of the basics right, employing plenty of lurid red and green colours, and a weird electronic soundtrack which lurches between seedily sinister and laughably inappropriate. Add to this an enjoyably unhinged performance from Lam Suet as the sleazy sorcerer, which requires him to spend a lot of time beating the air with branches at unseen ghosts, and the rather short and tight nurse uniforms worn by most of the female cast, and the film translates into an hour and a half of trashy fun.
Indeed, “Womb Ghosts” really is a film with which viewers get exactly what they pay for – a crass, though enjoyable slice of exploitation cinema. Whilst no one could accuse the film of being well made, and whilst it sadly never quite lives up to the delirium of its trailer, it still manages to win points through a vaguely endearing mixture of shudders and unintentional laughs. Law certainly has some way to go before he can be considered a proper film maker, though for the time being, he does at least show a talent for churning out entertainingly disreputable genre fare.
Dennis Law (director) / Dennis Law (screenplay)
CAST: Chrissie Chow … Zoe
Koni Lui … Winnie
Suet Lam … Lok
Lok-yi Lai … Joseph
Jo Kuk … Tracy
Dada Lo … Joey / Jena
Maggie Siu … Joyce
Sherman Tang … Jay