Visible Secret (2001)

Directed by: Ann Hui
Written by: Abe Gwong
Producers: Ann Hui, Thomas Chung, John Chong, Solon So & Abe Gwong
Starring: Eason Chan, Shu Qi, Sam Lee, James Wong, Kara Hui & Wayne Lai

Buy the DVD at:

Buy the Visible Secret 1 & 2 Collector's Edition at:

Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2002:
Best Cinematography (Arthur Wong)

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2002:
Best Director (Ann Hui)
Best Supporting Actress (Kara Hui)
Best Sound Design (Tu Che-Du)

Awards at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 2002:
Best Director (Ann Hui)
Film Of Merit

Hong Kong cinema have lately caught on to the ongoing horror/ghost-movie trend that's mostly inspired by movies like Hideo Nakata's excellent Japanese movie Ring. It has a resulted in a few so-so productions and the odd homerun. In the latter category we find The Pang Brother's The Eye that didn't provide anything new to the genre but proved one thing: you have to make a good movie. Read on to find out how Ann Hui's Visible Secret fares...

Peter (Eason Chan from If U Care...) meets June (Shu Qi from The Transporter) at a rave party and despite her odd mood swings, Peter can't help but to slowly fall in love with her. As they get to know each other June tells him that she can see wandering ghosts, a revelation Peter doesn't take too seriously. As time goes by more and more strange things start to happen and Peter realizes that he have to take June's claims seriously. The question is whether it's him or June who lies in grave danger...

That Ann Hui took on this project felt exciting from the start since she's more associated with dramas like Boat People, Story of Woo-Viet and the recently acclaimed July Rhapsody. One thought I had though was that Ann would go for a full on commercial movie with Visible Secret but you soon realize that she's hidden a much smarter movie than that under the glossy surface. With Abe Gwong's carefully structured script Ann creates a very low-key and slowly unveiling ghost/romance story which seems to have divided fans into two camps. The 100 minute running time requires your full attention since this movie isn't really over until it's over.

We get a taste of the supernatural elements of the movie during the opening and some sections to follow but to give the characters and the love story between Eason and Shu some depth, Ann consciously concentrates on them for a while. Her experience really shows since she maintains interest and commitment from the viewer during this quite slow paced part of the film. Much has to do with the performances and chemistry she carves out of Eason and Shu and to get good acting out of idols like those two isn't always a given thing. Real characters are in the end created in the two and makes this movie more special than other ones out there, albeit in a subtle way. Their relationship is therefore well established when the ghost part slowly takes over again. I say ghost because it's more of that than real horror like The Eye and Visible Secret deliberately doesn't try to score high on the fright scale because of that choice. There is a creepy atmosphere present at appropriate moments though which may result in something jumping out at you or perhaps not. Ann has fun playing with the audience and in some scenes we're kind of on the edge of our set only to be utterly fooled when nothing happens. As I mentioned, you have to really focus on what's going on and some viewers may not have been prepared for that or the slow pace.

Ann Hui seemed to have worked closely with DP Arthur Wong to combine her very straightforward way of directing with his knowledge of any way of shooting. If she'd choosen to make the movie more commercial then we might have seen a visual style akin to an MTV-video for 100 minutes but thankfully she holds back and only use a distinctive visual style when needed. The viewer has to get a good look at the events to take it all in and thanks to the restrained camera language the plot is made clear throughout. In the ghost scenes the level of intensity is higher and here the choice of angles reflect that also. What that means is we often get tilted angles in combination with camera push in's and they're used quite effectively.

Master-cinematographer Arthur Wong (Purple Storm and the upcoming Highbinders) has no small part in making this movie work the way it does. Some of you may know that I'm no fan of photography that uses one strong colour in the entire frame to reflect and set different moods. Visible Secret do look very stylized but at the same time is devoid of strong colours, making the entire world look bleak and slightly surreal. Now and then we get scenes that are totally blue or green and to be honest I didn't find any choices to fully serve the story. However, after a while I ignored it and was sucked into the story and it's a real testament to our director and DP to make someone like me forget about what I criticized before. Even in Gen-X Cops I didn't mind Arthur's photography-choices and I think in a lesser cinematographers hands, that and this movie would've seemed worse.

Eason Chan made his debut in my dvd-player with this movie. Abe Gong has written a character that sure feels realized and fleshed out but you can't judge that 30, 50 or even 80 minutes into the film. It's only right at the end you can start doing that. Eason plays it fairly low-key without resorting to huge hysterics like other characters in the same situation would. His rough-look also suits Peter very well and he's stumbling his way through life not really knowing what to do even if he has skill to do things. If Eason has any more range beyond this remains for me to see but it was a good introduction to him.

Shu Qi has shown that she isn't just a pretty face after award winning turns in movies like Portland Street Blues. Her almost gothic look in this film doesn't make her less beautiful or less of an actress either. She sees ghosts and has to examine that further making her feel very disjointed and even frustrating in Peter's eyes. This is played in a effective and most importantly professional way by Shu Qi and while the role doesn't elevate her status, it doesn't hurt it either. Also in nice supporting performances we see James Wong, the nominated Kara Hui and Wayne Lai.

Visible Secret is wrapped up nicely towards the end and it is that far you have to go with this movie before deciding what you thought of it. I don't guarantee that you will be satisfied but for me this was a very enjoyable and fairly chilling tale from Ann Hui.

The DVD:

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 (more on that below) and a nice creepy 3-D hologram of the female ghost seen in the banned scenes. That 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 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer looks very good and the washed out bleak colours seems accurately presented. Very little damage is present and some grain in the beginning parts of the film is the only complaint I have.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track also puts you nicely in the movie. It wasn't as spread out at the front as I would've liked but is still effective overall. Surrounds are used a little too much at times though. A Mandarin 5.1 is also included.

The English subtitles are good but comes with more than a few errors than expected for a recent movie. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

We find a few extras on this release starting with The making of Visible Secret (14 minutes 24 seconds). This piece only provides permanent Chinese subtitles and is therefore no good in terms of info for us English speakers. There's some nice behind the scenes footage but that is spoiled by the annoying ghost trail effect the makers has decided to shoot this making of with. Also in the extras section is the normal plot synopsis and cast & crew listings (with short biographies of Ann Hui, Eason Chan, Shu Qi and Sam Lee).

Now for the interesting extras. As part of the poster campaign (as seen on the cover art above) Media Asia had a female ghost (played by Jo Kuk) riding on a subway train amongst normal passengers. This got some extra publicity when Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway thought the poster might scare riders Therefore the posters were removed as well as the corresponding scene in the movie. However shots of it are still in both the teaser and theatrical trailer on the disc as seen below:

(From the Teaser and Theatrical trailer respectively)

The four film frames included in the tin shows a different shot not seen in the trailers so that makes for a nice collector's item. Last extra on the disc is a 94 page comic version of Visible Secret and that is of good use to see where the banned scenes would fit in the film.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson