Inner Senses (2002)

Directed by: Law Chi Leung
Written by: Yeung Sin Ling
Producer: Derek Yee
Starring: Leslie Cheung, Karena Lam, Maggie Poon, Valerie Chow, Waise Lee & Norman Tsui

Buy the DVD at:
HK (Tai Seng) (Universe)

Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2003:
Best New Director (Law Chi Leung)

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2003:
Best Director (Law Chi Leung)
Best Actor (Leslie Cheung)
Best Actress (Karena Lam)
Best Sound (Kinson Tsang)

Award at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 2003:
Film Of Merit

Nomination at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2002:
Best Actor (Leslie Cheung)

Inner Senses became Leslie Cheung's last screen appearance and it does echo sad parallels surrounding the star's suicide on April 1st 2003. Obviously it was hard to decipher back then because Cheung's depression was kept outside of the spotlight and it's not just in sporadic bursts you see the inner workings of the real Leslie on screen. It's almost like a cry for help in some ways. Regardless, this is also a breakout showcase of a Derek Yee discovery, director Law Chi Leung.

Translator Cheung Yan (Karena Lam) moves into a new apartment but is soon plagued by visions of what appears to be the ghosts of her landlord's (Norman Tsui) wife and son. Unable to cope with the situation herself, she consults psychiatrist Jim (Leslie Cheung) who begins to find reasons not connected to otherworldly beings as the cause of Yan's emotional state. The two strike up a bond, leading to her recovery and the two becoming lovers. However Jim has during the treatment of Yan and furthermore during their relationship himself been plagued by visions of his own...

Backed once again by Derek Yee's producing skills, Law furthers himself greatly from Double Tap (also with Cheung in a dark turn). Gone is not the ability to produce some of the slickest Hong Kong cinema around however. In fact, re-teaming with director of photography Venus Keung proves to be a good move as the frame looks exemplary. Neither Law or Venus seems to be camera movement enthusiasts and Inner Senses benefits from that as it proves to be more story- and character driven than the lackluster poster art suggests.

Law's technique is to let the camera rest as concentration is not to be put on that and if you really have to admire the technical skills in the frame, admire the razor sharp lighting. It doesn't get any more suitably restrained and technically excellent than this! With that in mind, when watching Law's subsequent thriller Koma, this time without Keung at the camera, one can clearly see that the stillness in movements definitely does not all come from the cinematographer but a great eye resides in Law Chi Leung as well. When working with Derek Yee, your story skills better be on alert as well and Inner Senses proves that they are for Law.

Law early on tests out the cheap scares within the slick frame, not because he has set up anything in the story in particular but to show us what he can do. And it works. With Peter Kam's almost stock score and Kinson Tsang's sound within a still Venus Keung frame, Law proves that old tricks can work wonders in new productions. It's also soon clear that Inner Senses is borrowing ideas from Ring but utilizing them in a less bothersome fashion, for once. In fact, the scares are actually secondary for the longest of time and Law with screenwriter Yeung Sin Ling examines something more interesting instead. How the brain can play tricks on us, which is an unusual stance for a Hong Kong film because the Hong Kong people are usually very superstitious. The director treads a fine narrative balance of us truly believing Yan is haunted by her landlords family or if it's due to her handling of her current emotional state. He may give a clear answer but yet not. When furthering his story in the unexpected twist, dropping hints of Leslie Cheung's Jim experiencing visions of his own, it all begins to add up to something very crucial for the viewer; interest.

It's for the second half that Law Chi Leung introduces a new theme, perhaps the one that resonates the most in the light of Leslie Cheung's suicide; Never forget. And while the horror elements are therefore thrown out more extensively, it's engaging on a story- and character level as it should while still continuing to bring in the question of what memories does to a fragile mind, quite splendidly. Law may seem like he has found a home in horror but viewing Inner Senses and Koma, he favours the physiological creepy factor which opens doors for the filmmaker to showcase more than just another Sixth Sense and Ring rip-off.

As a last performance, Leslie Cheung went out with respect although it's almost painfully sad to watch the dark turns his character goes through and how it, even if it is vague, connects to real life. Law has taken Cheung's acting down a bit compared to Double Tap and when becoming hysterical, it's more warranted and less open for criticism. Cheung brings the warmth, authority and vulnerability to Jim in the veteran dependent way we came to expect by this point in his career.

Karena Lam I can't quite get over how young she looks and how she professionally she conducts herself on screen. It's not an adult character as such and plays well age wise with Lam's presence. But there's something so engaging about this, what I consider to still be new talent and her traits as a character is of course similar to that of Cheung's but no less well performed. The two strike up the right chemistry as lovers, both in darkness and light moments as well.

Inner Senses spoke of a very valid theme at the time of release. That of never neglecting your past important memories and by April 1st 2003, that theme sadly rang even more truer as the news spread of Leslie Cheung's death. We won't forget that and we won't forget Inner Senses as Law Chi Leung's great step forward as a director. Few makes Hong Kong cinema look this good and occupies themselves with being a good filmmaker as well.

The DVD:

Universe presents the film in a 1.80:1 aspect ratio approximately. This is a sharp and detailed presentation with only a select few instances of dirt on the print.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track utilizes the entire soundstage extremely well, drawing us both in on the horror and the emotions present. A Cantonese DTS 5.1 track and a Dolby Digital 5.1 Mandarin dub is also included.

The English subtitles feature no apparent spelling or grammar inaccuracies. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Main extra is the 11 minute, 27 second making of (no subtitles). Consisting solely of cast & crew interviews interspersed with movie clips, not much can be appreciated here for those in need of English subtitles. This piece appears subtitled on the Tai Seng dvd.

Bland Star's Files for Leslie Cheung, Derek Yee can be read in English but oddly enough not the one for Karena Lam. Trailers for Inner Senses, July Rhapsody and Tiramisu rounds off the extras.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson