New Blood (2002)

Directed by: Soi Cheang
Written by: Soi Cheang & Szeto Kam Yuen
Producers: Joe Ma, Yy Kong & Ip Kwong Kim
Starring: Bernard Chow, Cyrus Chow, Niki Chow & Winnie Leung

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

The promising Soi Cheang began his directing career experimenting with the Digital Video Format in dramas like Our Last Day and The House Of No Man. Previously he had worked closely with another young talent, Wilson Yip, as an assistant director on Juliet In Love and Teaching Sucks! (the two have since logged cameos for each other in their directed movies) He hasn't worked in as many genres as Yip but Cheang began expanding his range by turning to horror in 2001 with Horror Hotline...Big Head Monster. With a very straight and serious approach, he managed to bring out much creepiness despite the intentionally cheesy premise but it wasn't fully successful due to it's ending. Still, to quote Bey Logan, Soi Cheang has a very good eye and with New Blood he continues to hone his craft in horror, this time with a less hokey plot.

A young couple attempt suicide together but thanks to the blood donation by Lok (Bernard Chow), Eric (Cyrus Chow) and Joy (Niki Chow), the boy survives while the girl eventually dies after being in a coma. Soon thereafter, the three donators are being haunted by the spirit of the dead girl...

Leave it to horror to make not one lick of sense! Actually, it applies to many genres, if not all, but you have a lot more freedom when plotting out horror, in particular when dealing with the supernatural. There's always a danger then to go way too overboard with the unwritten movie laws but thankfully Soi Cheang's goal with New Blood is to keep things as accessible as possible. While not up to the standards of the nightmarish The Eye, New Blood represents the better part of Hong Kong's flawed horror output lately.

The screenplay by Soi Cheang and Szeto Kam Yuen is not what carries this movie as a whole. It doesn't fill the plot with characters but doesn't go for character depth either. The filmmakers are not aiming at making a horror effort with originality behind every corner. Here, Soi and his co-writer want to make the best of the familiar and that my friends is a great big challenge in itself today. The plot does make sense and the main element, the love between the suicidal couple is expanded upon enough so Soi and Szeto lay the ground nicely. If anything, I mentioned that there's not much character depth, it is hurt a little by the fact that you have an acting trio of not yet established actors. That can work to your advantage and provide huge disadvantages as well. Name actors, even the best ones, can't sometimes avoid the star factor they project and that way overshadowing the character. An unknown face can make a character more believable and real if there's effort in there. In New Blood's case, I'm sure it was a conscious choice to cast these faces, only Niki Chow puts in a performance of noteworthy status. Bernard Chow and Cyrus Chow are decent but are also trying too hard in certain scenes. Now, all this isn't an annoyance throughout because it's Soi Cheang's horror vision that carries this movie, at times really well.

Continuing on from his style in Horror Hotline...Big Head Monster, Soi's eye for horror takes part of a page out of Hideo Nakata's book and injects the right touches the right way. Soi is a stylish filmmaker, not necessarily one that speeds up a film for style but one that has proven to be effective when he is tossing the camera around in otherworldly angles. One thing he does know is that the best horror comes out of stillness and he continues to live by that motto in New Blood. His horror imagery isn't exactly outstanding but he's out to give his best without overdoing it. The moody opening, featuring the couple committing their act of love via slitting of the wrists has intercutting very familiar to the trained movie eye and the creepiness seems to be consciously toned down compared to Horror Hotline. It makes sense, that film's premise needed to be more amped, straight horror to win audiences over while New Blood has less of a tricky road to it's horror. At the beginning, Soi logs probably the best scare without any noise but the majority of the fairly creepy atmosphere, unease etc. comes out of solid, again, familiar, sound design, editing and cinematography. The quick-cuts to reveal the spirits true form work best in that form but disappointingly not as much when we get calmer, revealing shots of her. The shrill sound design helps immensely and is particular effective in a scene set at a construction site.

As the movie progresses, director Soi maintains a firm grip on the audience without reaching greatness. It's an involving tale or involving enough that features a few well-timed jumps via editing and the atmosphere The cinematography leads us into some criticisms of the film. As was the case of Horror Hotline, the desolated environment is made up of primarily green, blue and blacks (plus a bit of red seeing as we're dealing with a blood theme). It does not intrude on the viewing but doesn't feel needed either. Not that I have the solution but there has only been few cases where strong colours actually add. I think you can achieve great things with a minimalistic stylized colour palette. Also, most noticeable in the beginning, the choosen colour scheme and a few locations really seem out of touch with reality and only fitting for a horror movie. Especially the construction site is not something, realistically even an established architect (Cyrus Chow's character's profession) would voluntarily set his foot in. However, strong points ARE the film's desolated settings. They only show the outside world when needed and purely concentrates on the individuals that are the focus of the film. Long, deep shots of hallways and different locations are an effective mood setter, even in its simplicity.

Soi Cheang has taken steps forward since Horror Hotline...Big Head Monster and amongst all the bad entries in this genre out of Hong Kong, he and The Pang Brothers have produced the best work. They have the better eyes for it. Next, Soi Cheang is directing The Twins...

The DVD:

A new film but not part of Mei Ah's anamorphically enhanced discs. The 1.85.1 transfer looks very fine though. Minimal wear and the colours are neatly showcased in this presentation.

Strangely enough, none of the audio options comes in Dolby Digital 5.1 but instead only 2.1 tracks are on offer. Doesn't really matter because it's a very solid sounding Cantonese track. All channels are used and surround usage in particular sounds excellent on my 2.0 setup. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included.

The English subtitles feature no noticeable errors. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Extras are light, standard Mei Ah. The Data Bank has a plot synopsis screen and a cast & crew listing. Under the Best Buy option we get trailers are available for The Mummy, Aged 19 (directed by Wilson Yip), Feel 100% and a TV-thriller with no English title, starring Anita Yuen. The cinema trailer for New Blood is of course available also.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson