Film & DVD Review
When Peter (Eason Chan) first meets June (Shu Qi) he falls in love right away, regarding her claim of seeing ghosts with her right eye a plain joke worth laughing at. However, strange things soon happen on after another, including his dad's suicide and June being chased by a group of gangsters. Peter's friend Simon has an accident and to his surprise, Simon said it was Peter who pushed him off the staircase...
Hong Kong cinema like Hollywood goes through phases of making particular themed films. When the ghost story films came back into fashion after the success of The Sixth Sense, the Hong Kong film industry jumped on that band-wagon and produced many ghost films of their own. Visible Secret is one of those films.
The release of Visible Secret came with a little bit of controversy, which is something that I imagine is always good publicity as it makes people more aware of the film. Apparently one of the film posters that appeared in the Hong Kong underground was deemed to be too scary for some people and was therefore withdrawn. From what I recall reading, the poster featured a ghost on a train, which sounds very much like the DVD cover. I'm must obviously be made of much harder stuff than a lot of people then, as I personally didn't find the DVD cover the slightest bit scary. I'm so fearless I even turn the light off when I go to bed now! GRRRRRRRRRR!!!!
Anyway onto the film itself... Much to my surprise I expected Visible Secret to adopt the sort of suspense tension approach, making a little bit chilling, getting the viewers nerves up a bit, the hairs on the back of their necks standing on end and their heart-rate up to make more atmosphere in the film. Alas it did not, or if it did I must have missed it (see statement above about me being fearless)! Instead the film just goes for a standard ghost thriller approach. However, in adopting this approach the most important factor has to be that the story is strong enough to carry the film, with the suspense approach it is possibly easier to hide a weak story by putting in some good scares and the like. Visible Secret, in my opinion, does not have that strong a story partly due to some reasonably bad pacing and the ending, which I'll come to in a bit.
The story follows a guy called Peter (Eason Chan), and guy after a woman, and the one he meets and ends up liking is June (Shu Qi), a rather quirky woman with what looks like a very impulsive personality. As they get to know each other better, Peter learns that June believes she can see ghosts out of one of her eyes, something that he is rather dubious about. However in a short space of time strange things start occurring in his life leading him to begin to believe that June may be telling the truth. With more strange occurrences Peter discovers a possible link between June and a fatal accident that occurred something like 15 years or so earlier.
As stated already, Visible Secret doesn't really have a strong enough story to carry the film. However, it doesn't appear like that is the case all the way through, as it does begin very intriguingly and the immediate interest and curiosity is there. Then the introduction of Shu Qi's character makes her come across as many things, weird, impulsive, mysterious and also rather strange. That is a complete contrast to Eason Chan's whom I found to be basically rather dopey and boring looking!
The story slowly builds from here, and does look like it is going to continue being really interesting, but gradually it falls flat. Elements with the ghosts are dragged out too long, and as expected in Hong Kong cinema there are some humour moments, including a short cameo from Cheung Tat Ming, that while raising a wry smirk at most, completely ruin the already faltering pace. The film's biggest failing is the main story's ending, which comes across like it was made up on the spur of the moment as they were lacking anything resembling a decent ending. Given that the film is based on a comic book, this is obviously not the case; I just hope that it works better in the comic than it does in the film. Everything with the resolution to the story is just too sudden. The reason for everything is explained, then moments later a minor little twist occurs, and for me it is a crap twist at that. After that comes the ending to the film, which did have me going "WTF?!?!?" It may be the case that repeat viewings of the film are required to really 'get' the ending, but alas Visible Secret is just not good enough for me to bother.
Acting wise the film is nothing special at all. Eason Chan does come across quite dopey in his role but I suppose it gets the job done. Sam Lee isn't quite as geeky as he is made to be in other films, but is still a far cry from the quality of his debut performance in Made In Hong Kong. The surprise for me, in some ways, was Shu Qi. Now I've never really been a fan of hers as I generally find her to be quite annoying, and I don't find her that attractive either. That was not the case in Visible Secret! Maybe it was the dark make-up that she wears, but something about her in this film made her far more appealing than ever before, that and I thought that she played her quirky character quite well at most times. Now it would never win any awards, but her performance was definitely the best in the film.
What has been delivered in Visible Secret is a rather run-of-the-mill ghost thriller, that offers too little in substance, and loses pace and direction once it gets going. There are definitely interesting elements in there, and the film may have worked a lot better had a more suspense filled approach been taken. As it is though, Visible Secret is a film that is really very average, and isn't really worth searching out.
Audio & Subtitles
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack for Visible Secret is not one to go raving about. Unfortunately it is a little quiet in places, with the volume balance not being quite right. I found that I had to turn up the volume so I could hear things properly, but then had to turn it back down not long later as some sound effects were then just too loud. The surround channels were used quite sparingly, as I don't really recall much in the way of soundstage spread, particularly with the rear speakers. Personally I would have expected a little better for a recent film.
The English subtitles are just fairly typical of the general standard of older Hong Kong DVDs. There are some spelling errors that don't intrude that much (if you are used to it, I guess!), and there were quite a few tense errors. However, at all times it was still clear what was being written. Unfortunately, there is some singing in the film that is not subtitled at all. I'm guessing this song was not important at all to the film's story, as there are other songs that are subtitled. For consistency though, it would definitely been better to have had all the songs subtitled.
The Visible Secret DVD comes with anamorphic widescreen presentation. On the whole, the print is ok, as there are quite frequent speckles and the like on the print. There is also a reasonable amount of grain in some scenes, giving some of the solid colours and fine edges a bit of a shimmer sort of look. I also noticed that in some scenes the screen had a definite blue tint to it, and the detail on display was far less than in other scenes. I'm guessing the roll of film used at that point was of lesser quality than the norm. Detail levels generally are ok, not too soft but definitely not highly detailed either.
DVD & Extras
The DVD comes with more than your usual Hong Kong DVD with regard to extras. First up you get a rather pointless, in my opinion, film synopsis, then there is a 14 1/2 minute Making Of. Alas this is in Chinese and only has Chinese subtitles, so I didn't watch much of it at all. Next in the list are the teaser and theatrical trailers, and the Cast and Credits. The latter of these has a little bit written in both Chinese and English on Ann Hui, Eason Chan, Shu Qi and Sam Lee. The final extra is the Comic Version. This, as its name suggests, is the film in comic form. There is no English writing on this one, but there is some Chinese, however, a lot of the speech bubbles with the characters in them are very small, and not all in the frame (by the looks of it), so it is possible that even though it covers the full film this could just be intended as a highlight of the comic rather than a complete representation.
One of a large crop of ghost films that have come out of Hong Kong in recent years, Visible Secret is one that simply fails to stand out from the crowd. Its notoriety from its poster campaign will undoubtedly earn it a bit more revenue, but there is nothing here that sets it aside or makes it better than a lot of others.
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