Visits: Hungry Ghost Anthology
Malaysia (Eng subs)
DVD / 2004
Low Ngai Yuen
Tian Hann Ng
Tidepoint Pictures/Bone House Asia
Uniting four Malaysian directors, Visits begins with a phone-in radio show where callers relate their supernatural tales during the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival (a more colourful equivalent of the European All Souls Day). The portmanteau format has become a staple of Asian horror films – possibly the only place it remains – though mercifully not always in Kwaidan proportions, and the stories contained here are all tightly woven enough to hold the viewer’s interest.
Released in the same year as the popular Three ... Extremes which boasted the talents of Takashi Miike, Visits is a more sober affair, sticking in the main to the traditional tropes of long-haired girls and spooky encounters in elevators. Suicide is a definite preoccupation of three of the four segments (particularly the labelling of a death as suicide – perhaps unsurprising from a country where suicide has long been stigmatised as a criminal act), but fear not: There are still the obligatory schoolgirls flashing peace signs, satisfying the male fantasy that all girls enjoy pseudo-lesbian relationships with their female friends (“I’m happier with you”, one girl tells her best friend when explaining why she’s breaking up with her boyfriend). The over-sentimentalization of female friendship becomes slightly cloying at times, though the moment when a dead girl appears to her best friend to say goodbye (long dark hair and static TV screen included) is a refreshing spin on the usually malevolent female ghost.
All the directors here offer at least one memorable shot in their contributions: the patently ‘unghostly’ violent movement of a hospital curtain in Low Ngai Yuen’s ‘1413’ is far more arresting than the sudden close-up of a ghostly face that graces the screen a minute later, and the DIY fortune-telling doll in Ng Tian Hann’s ‘Nodding Scoop’ is genuinely unsettling. Most impressive is Ho Yuhang’s ‘Anybody Home?’ which utilises CCTV footage to replace the traditional long-haired girl with an altogether more real murderess.
Can you ever have enough Asian portmanteau horror? Probably, but you could do worse than pick up Visits – the directors here might eschew shock value but their reworking of familiar themes is definitely worth a look.
This Bone House Asia DVD release includes a making-of featurette.