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  • I usually get perturbed when I watch movies with Hong Kong actors, because our Speak Mandarin campaign here dictates that these movies if in Cantonese have to be dubbed into Mandarin. Add to the fact that most times, the audio and lip movements on screen rarely sync, besides the frequent use someone with a poor voice quality that results in the stars coming across with squeaky or irritating voices. No such situation in this Chinese horror movie production because the cast are speaking in Mandarin, and this somehow earns some brownie points.

    The Matrimony, like the name implies, focuses a lot more on relationships and love, with the supernatural angle adding that extra dimension to complicate matters. It is not a horror movie per se, but a tragic love story that has its characters perpetually stuck with their various issues. Leon Lai stars as cinematographer Shen Junchu, a man who can't forget his true love, living in a state of denial and guilt. Fan Bingbing plays Xu Manli, that love of his who now belongs to the netherworld, but still trying her best to make contact, and rounding up the main cast is Rene Liu as Sansan, the present wife of Jinchu, stuck in a loveless unconsummated marriage, looking too for ways to reach out to him.

    While there are moments initially where the usual complimentary attempts at scaring the audience are put through the motions, like creaky doors, quick edits, camera pans and sudden appearances, these tactics are soon abandoned when the story decided to contrast that affections of these two women have for their man. It's about unattainability, and the methods employed to try and bridge that gap. To Manli, it is obvious that her appearance and touch will harm Junchu, and for Sansan, it's clear that nursing that crush you have without that emotional connection made both ways, is futile. So a pact between them is made, at first seemingly to benefit Junchu, but later revealed to be much more than meets the eye.

    There's nothing fancy to the story as it plays out rather ordinarily, but to its credit it stays coherent, and brings about the storytelling days of old. There isn't any twist save for what I deem as cop-out wrapper scenes which, if you ignore them being used as bookends, actually makes for a refreshing experience given that horror movies these days are always so clichéd with the unexpected (and usually disappointing) ending. The narrative rarely gets over the top or too full of itself, and thus the beauty in its simplicity.

    But there is nothing simple in terms of production values. The film sets are lush and gorgeous, and no effort made to try and match the authenticity of yesteryears, making it a beautiful film to look at. The only thorn that marred the visual spectacle, was a crucial scene, which I thought could have either be done away with, or done conventionally. Instead, it decided to use visual effects, and it was badly done and cheesy. Not that the quality of the effects were limited, as later scenes were done to perfection, but I guess for this particular one, some quality control was abandoned. The movie started off rather slow but thankfully picked up the pace as it moved along, and you won't feel bored as your eyes will be admiring almost everything on set in the scene.

    I deem Rene Liu as having the most to do here, as surprisingly, much of the story revolves around her character Sansan, also in having the richest backstory created amongst the three, thus attempting to challenge her acting range. Leon Lai was stoned for most parts, while Fan Bingbing was largely scheming, given the age old superstition that any spirit clad in red is the most vicious.

    Given Valentine's Day just around the corner, I'd probably stick my neck out to say that this makes a decent date movie too, despite the secondary subject of spirits and ghostly possession. Just remember not to play with fire, that rarely is there a free lunch, especially when the dealmaker isn't from this part of existence.
  • A par better than the usual HK horror/thriller...

    Matrimony probably does not qualify as a horror, but that does mean it hasn't surpassed the 2007 duo in the wholly average The Haunted School and the woeful House of the Invisibles, in terms of thrills. While Matrimony stands well as a thriller, there are some moments of frights and suspenseful moment that made the movie stands up from the pack of average attempts. With a photogenic cast of Leon Lai, Rene Liu and the irresistible Fan Bing Bing, there is no question that Matrimony is great to look at and full credit to the producer and director for creating a thrilling 84 minutes for the starving audience. It's true that Matrimony probably will not be remembered once the date hits 2008, but it is easily a better than expected movie fair and certainly one that is a par better than the mentioned predecessors The movie goes like this: Leon Lai loses the love of his life in an accident and from there goes the story of a ghost who is unwilling to let go and in the process encountering the troubles and problems of Leon in accepting a new girl in his life… It is a switch and a turn of a performance from the webmaster's favourite Fan Bing Bing, who ditched her beautiful and modern girl attitude for an evil spirit role. There is no denying that Fan Bing Bing is beautiful and her big eyes and great body shape is worthy of commendation, but rarely is she given such a juicy role as this and fortunately she doesn't disappoint. In perhaps, her best ever performance, it ironically comes at her ugliness look and aided by make up and special effects, the moment when she scared the hell out of Leon's mum, is probably more frightening than 10 normal HK horror movies. Adding to the mix is yet another engaging performance from Rene Liu, but it must be noted that she does not look like a 20 something and the fact that she is 40 and Fan Bing Bing is closer to 20, it is hard to cheat the audience. Still, a fine and captivating display, despite the role seems to be something that she has done numerous times before.

    Moving on to the performance to the heavenly king, Leon Lai, it must be said that the two actresses overshadowed his regretful and depressed performance. While Leon have improved from his blank delivery days as seen in Infernal Affairs 3, where he tackled a difficult character with a level of distinction, the same can not be said here. Lai is unable to connect to the audience and at times he seems more distant than relating, perhaps it is due to the script, but it ends up a rather disappointing display.

    All in all, Matrimony is certainly a film that is beautiful to look at and the case of Fan Bing Bing and Rene Liu is definitely a pleasure to watch. Credit must be given to both the director and producer for creating an atmosphere and surrounding that settled up the movie. Instead of going down the path of cheesiness, Martimony comes off a thrilling 84 minutes and with such a short running time, the film moves along at a brisk pace. With enough thrills, mysteriousness and a spice of sexiness, Matrimony easily stands a par above the pack of 2007 HK's horror/thriller and for only 84 minutes, you can certainly do a lot worst than watching this. Finishing off, fans of Fan Bing Bing be warned, seeing this may spoil your dream tonight, but Neo still doesn't mind either way…

    I rate it 7.75/10

    • www.thehkneo.com
  • AirPlant30 October 2009
    Sansan (Rene Liu ) finds herself in an unhappy arranged marriage to melancholic film director Junchu (Leon Lai). She lives in the shadow of Junchus lover Manli (played by the ethereally beautiful Bingbing Fan) who was killed the year before. Lonely ...(read more) and despairing for the survival of her marriage, Sansan enters into a pact with Manlis ghost to win Junchus heart. There is much to like, all the performances from the small cast are spot on (Rene Liu is perfect as the shy, unhappy wife, and Bingbing Fan is a revelation). Although ostensibly a ghost story, this is suitable for those who normally steer clear of the genre, the horror element is played way down and is secondary to the wistful tale of love lost and, perhaps found again. The cinematography is superb, with Shanghai of the 50s brought to gorgeous, vibrant life. A lovely film deserving of a wider audience and, certainly not routine or clichéd.
  • MATRIMONY ('Xin zhong you gui') is a 2007 artistically satisfying film from China, a suspenseful ghost story written by Qianling Yang and Jialu Zhang and directed with distinction by Hua-Tao Teng. It is in Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles. The cover for this DVD does not do the film justice in that it suggests a story in the category of body dismemberment like the tiresome 'Saw' movies. This film is instead an old-fashioned ghost story more Henry James than James Wan/Leigh Whannell. It is a beautifully photographed (Ping Bin Lee), richly colorful atmospheric love story gone wrong.

    The film opens with a lady relating a drama in front of a microphone at a radio station (the time frame is supposedly the 1930s). The scene switches to downtown where Shen Junchu (Chinese heartthrob Leon Lai) waits one the street until he spies his beautiful girlfriend Xu Manli (the very beautiful Bingbing Fan) riding on her bicycle towards him. Obviously both are excited to see each other and Manli drives into traffic and is killed; the shocked Junchu drops the little gift he had for Manli - an engagement ring. In the next scene we find the hardened sad Junchu in his home, having been forced by his mother Rong Ma (Songzi Xu) to marry the girl Sansan (Rene Liu) to assuage his devastation over his loss of Manli: Juncho merely tolerates Sansan and forbids her to enter the attic where he has stored all of Manli's earthly belongings. In her despair Sansan finds a key to the attic, enters it and discovers the ghost of Manli. A pact is made whereby Manli will assume the body of Sansan. From this point on the story develops as a clash between Junchu gradually accepting Sansan and slowly the ghost of Manli reveals herself and now in the corporal status of Sansun she appears to Juncho - but is it too late, and how will the transfigured ghost of Manli secure her position in Junchu's life? The ending is very smart and reminds the view of the old Guy de Maupassant short stories, known for their unique surprise endings.

    The story is told with Gothic finesse accompanied by a delicate musical score by Sin-yun Lee and Norman Orenstein. The acting is splendid and the special effects (the smoky apparition of the ghost of Manli is beautifully managed) are first class. This is a film rich in cinematic creativity and a story that is just off-kilter enough to be a frightening ghost tale without the excesses that we have grown used to seeing in recent horror films. Highly Recommended.

    Grady Harp
  • I went in expecting another by-the-numbers, predictable modern Asian ghost story, but the Chinese made "The Matrimony" played a little differently in that its focus point relied on the heart of the story and its well-etched characters. Sure it had some jarring jolts, sinisterly echoing score and plenty of creepy atmospheres within its large remote house, but it never lost sight of its tragic, if traditional love tale interwoven with the supernatural with a clever spin to its outcome. This is where the tension was consolidated from. Quite slow-burn and subtle, so were the performances which were soundly agreeable. Rene Liu and Leon Lai acquit themselves well presenting the hurt, but it's the beautifully haunting and obsessive presence of Bingbing Fang that leaves a mark. Junchu married Sansan, but still pines for his late fiancé Manli where he keeps her belongings locked away in the attic. Forbidding Sansan to enter. However she comes across the key and enters the attic encountering the spirit of Manli. A deal is made between the two, but at what cost is this help from beyond the grave. What starts off as light-weight and good-will, gets darker when suspicions are raised and intentions are manipulated becoming threatening. It's illustrated with a polished touch by director Hua-Tao Teng, despite some lousy CGI at the beginning (but the rest were better realised) and pacing remains breezy. A tidily presented old-fashion ghost chiller.

    "Ghosts are ghosts. One can never trust one"
  • A woman finds the key to a room in the attic that her husband forbids her from entering. When she opens the door, she is confronted with the haunting existence of the woman her husband refuses to forget.

    This film keeps getting compared to Alfred Hitchcock's "Rebecca". I see it. I really do. But I think it is also unfair to this movie because it really stands on its own. The plot is solid. The film is visually striking (the cinematography is quite good and should be talked up). The effects are not quite as smooth as they could be, but being an Asian film with supernatural elements, it actually did not bother me too much.