Visible Secret II (2002)
by: Abe Gwong
at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2003:
Best Original Film Song: Nei wui but wui (Would Or Wouldn't You)
Music: Eason Chan
Lyrics: Lam Jik
Performed by: Eason Chan
Nomination at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 2002:
Best Original Film Song
at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2002:
Ann Hui's well crafted Visible Secret got itself a sequel in 2002 but was instead directed and co-written by Abe Gwong (co-producer and writer of the first movie). Eason Chan and Jo Kuk (who was cut out of the first one) returns but this is more of a new episode rather than a sequel.
Jack (Eason Chan) and Ching (Jo Kuk) are newlyweds and have just moved into a new apartment. Everything is great until a fateful night when Jack gets hit by a car. Luckily he escapes with an injured leg but after the accident he starts to have strange visions of an old fashioned dressed woman lying dead on the sidewalk. His wife has hard time believing in him and his claims that the house may be haunted but soon she starts to act strange, almost like she's possessed...
Abe Gwong showed off some good writing in Visible Secret and as the director and co-writer of the second installment, he doesn't copy Ann Hui's movie. You shouldn't compare the two since they feature different story structure as well as filming techniques but one thing Visible Secret II fails in doing is avoiding certain genre-clichés. Certain plot points and setups we've seen in American and even Hong Kong productions and it was something the first movie managed to stay away from.
Visible Secret II therefore doesn't come across as good as the first one but it's still good film on it's own. Abe Gwong has crafted a less complicated and more straightforward ghost story and he turns up the scare-factor a few notches while we watch the plot untangle. The character of Jack believes his apartment is haunted and that results in some well executed haunted house type of scenes. They don't feel lifted from other movies and feels unique for the moment at least. Thanks to some very good camerawork we too feel almost stuck in Jack's situation while the camera slowly movis through corridors and such. I also really liked the static setups used by Abe and the way he lingered on object or even persons. Hard to describe but you could almost call it silent directing. When the story doesn't have tense moments it follows our main characters slowly through the urban- and country side of Hong Kong and the camera rarely feels like it's there, which is a good thing. Visible Secret II takes it's fair share of time to fully reveal the story, something the first part also did. It was slower paced though and the viewers who found that bad, may feel more positive towards the sequels pacing.
They ghost like scenes are at times creepy thanks to the fact that so many aspects of filmmaking comes together to create movie magic. Directing, camera work, lightning, editing and sound design are combined nicely to make something, that probably didn't seem special when filming, tense and creepy. The script lets the ghost presence take a bit of a backseat during the middle section where more facts are revealed about the characters but the intensity is turned up quite a bit during the climax of the movie. Going into it, it felt like Abe was trying to squeeze in way too much information and reveals in the end but he manages to stand straight and not overly confuse the audiences. Abe delivers a fairly powerful ending that scores high on both an emotional level as well as the fright one. The final twist of Visible Secret II will probably be debated but to me no rules are laid down as to what can or can't happen so I didn't have a problem with the ending.
With Mark Lee (Princess D) as the cinematographer, Abe further distances himself from the first movie and the look created by Arthur Wong. It's a new scenario, new characters and therefore a new look. Inside Jack and Ching's apartment strong bold colours dominate but it works as a contrast to the pitch black also present there. That does seem simple but if you have skill, much isn't needed to create an eerie feeling to an apparently haunted house. Outside of that setting the photography is natural or rather uncomplicated, which may be a conscious choice since the movie is also that.
Eason Chan plays this time a married man but the character isn't that far off from Peter in Visible Secret. As with that movie, he gets fired from his job but being a slightly older man, he has more visions of what he wants to do. Whether or not he can or will realize them is a different matter. As written, the character goes through some familiar (read: cliche like) situations like when his close ones doesn't believe him and what he's experiencing. It's in those scenes and moments that Eason tends to overact but he does carry this movie well enough. I did like some of his acting in the emotional climax and he shows nice chemistry with Jo Kuk. Certainly not the most interesting actor working today but it shows he's striving to gain respect in this profession also (Eason also enjoys a successful singing career).
Jo Kuk does steal the show from the leading man though. She was of course the female subway train ghost that was cut out of the first film and she partially reprises that character here. After Jack's accident, you could almost touch the tragedy present in her face but where she shines the most is when she shows her dead, stone cold face (both in and out of ghost make up). Extremely chilling and a true homerun in terms of casting. I think there is still room for development of the ghost character she plays and I hope she will return to it an eventual Visible Secret III. . Also in a crucial supporting part we see Cherrie Ying (from Fulltime Killer).
Visible Secret II is a competent piece of work that stand well on it's own as the so called sequel. It isn't as interesting as the first movie but it's still an enjoyable well above average horror/ghost-story.
I bought this movie as part of the Visible Secret 1 & 2 Collector's Edition which is packaged in a round tin. With it you get the same Megastar discs (in a double cd case sans cover art sadly) that are available separately, four Visible Secret II postcards, four film frames from the banned subway scenes in Visible Secret and a nice creepy 3-D hologram of the female ghost seen in the movies. The latter is also supposed to be assembled to create a mini-fan but I let it stay on the tin cover, looks better on the shelf.
The picture is 1.78:1 anamorphic and looks good with strong colours and blacks. Hues come off as a little reddish at times and there was more grain present than I would've liked (the cemetery scene with all the smoke really looks horrible).
The 5.1 Cantonese Dolby Digital track is very effective. It's restrained but uses every speaker well to create a soothing yet still creepy atmosphere throughout. A Cantonese DTS 5.1 track and a Mandarin 5.1 dub is also included.
The English subtitles seemed very accurate and I couldn't find any errors. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.
We get a few extras that would've been very much enjoyable if they had subtitles. Director Abe Gwong and producer Ann Hui can be heard on the Cantonese language audio commentary,the usual plot synopsis and cast & crew listings appear (with small biographies of Abe Gwong, Ann Hui, Eason Chan, Jo Kuk and Cherrie Ying).
There's 5 short making of-featurettes lasting from 2 minutes and 50 seconds to 4 minutes and 17 seconds. They all feature interviews with the main players and crew but are only interesting for a few small behind the scenes shots.
The teaser trailer shows some abandoned footage (see pictures below). In it there is a 'new' shot of the female ghost on the subway, something that may be part of the stuff filmed but cut out of the first Visible Secret. She is also seen riding a bus which may be only intended for the teaser but interesting to highlight nonetheless. Finally there is the theatrical trailer that actually comes with optional English subtitles, an option rarely seen on Hong Kong dvd's.
(From the Teaser trailer)
And now for the hidden extra! Go to the Making Of & Trailers-section and from there press left on your remote to highlight the eyes of the female ghost. Press enter and you're treated to 16 minutes and 13 seconds of stylish footage shot around Hong Kong intercut with clips from the Visible Secret-movies. The footage is set to some wonderful ambient music and while it doesn't provide anything useful, it's a nice way to finish off the disc.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson