Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Review of THE GHOST BRIDE: A Chinoy Cultural Curiosity

November 1, 2017




When it was announced that "Ghost Bride" will open on November 1, I knew I will watch it on Day 1. I have a fascination for Filipino horror films, and the Chinese theme of this one makes it an automatic must-watch for me. I admit that I was not familiar with the titular tradition, so curiosity about this ancient practice was another reason for me to go see it. Apparently, many people had the same idea as me. I got the one last available ticket of that particular afternoon screening I caught. 

Mayen (Kim Chiu) was the dutiful daughter of a cash-strapped couple Manuel (Robert Sena) and Dolores (Ina Raymundo) Lim. They made ends meet by running a mahjong joint in their house and putting on cultural shows at the temple. They lived with a couple of aunts, the eccentric Akoh (Beverly Salviejo) and the comical Jana (Cacai Bautista). Mayen was currently the girlfriend of Clinton (Matteo Guidicelli), an architect from a well-to-do traditional Chinese family. She was also being pursued by Robert (Mon Confiado), a rich but boorish business partner of her dad. 

One day, Mayen was approached by the mysterious Ms. Angie Lao (Alice Dixson), an impeccably-dressed matchmaker. She offered Mayen the opportunity of becoming a ghost bride, a woman who agrees to marry a dead bachelor for a fee from his family to assure that someone will keep his memory alive during important occasions in the future. Initially reluctant, Mayen was eventually pressured by a series of familial misfortunes requiring a considerable amount of money to accept Ms. Lao's creepy but financially-rewarding offer.

For me, the horror aspect was not really too scary as it relied mainly on jump scares with sudden loud sounds (from falling objects or thunder) or sudden flashes of ghoulish faces. Familiar scare tactics from previous films persist here with characters doing foolish things like not following strict warning instructions, not turning on the lights at night, not closing the doors behind them, going up a dark attic cluttered with old costumes alone. Kim Chiu played the role of the tormented Mayen with a convincing weak melancholic screen persona, which made her an easy target for evil forces.

Director Chito Rono previously tackled Chinese superstitions in his "Feng Shui" films in 2004 and 2014 (MY REVIEW). In this one, he frequently intercut scenes from two parallel events to heighten the suspense factor. Best sequence of this style was that one where the priestess Suan Ming (a bald Isay Alvarez) was praying over a sinister bracelet in a bowl, while Mayen's brother Victor (Victor Silayan) was going up an elevator with mortal danger impending. There were about four gory death scenes for those who like that kind of horror. However, the bloody style of death is similar for three of them, so the shock value diminishes with each repetition. We were not given any back story about our ghost bridegroom to tell us why this was his preferred way of murder.

In the final act of the film when the main action shifted to a Buddhist temple in Nepal felt long and dragged out. Lucky for Mayen, her old friend David Chou (Christian Bables) conveniently knew how to translate the Nepalese instructions of the exorcism rite to her. The film also took on an action film vibe when Mayen suddenly develops sword-fighting skills to fight the ghostly bodyguards of the boss ghost. Too bad the lighting of that scene was too dark for us to fully appreciate the spectacle of Kim Chiu fighting with the CGI warriors. 

The whole movie felt like a horror episode of the "Mano Po" film series, since it also dealt with Chinoy family dynamics. It also had Filipino actors delivering lines in thick Chinese accents or actually trying their best to say some lines in Mandarin, or the occasional Fookienese curse words, with various levels of success. The award for best affected Chinese accent would have to go to Ms. Alice Dixson for her elegant-sounding intonation for the character of Angie Lao. She also had the most number of difficult Mandarin lines, for which she deserves props for a valiant effort. Ironically, it was lead actress Kim Chiu, a real Chinese, whom I did not hear say anything in Chinese at all. 

Overall, I still appreciated the film because of its meticulous details of Chinoy culture. When "Mano Po" seemed to focus on the rich taipan families, "Ghost Bride" takes a look at the less-fortunate Chinoys in Chinatown living in desperate financial straits. Aside from the ghost bride practice, this film also showcased productions of the Kao-Ka (or Chinese opera) with its distinctive costumes, props, makeup and sound. It correctly observes that this was an old tradition which is sadly on the decline. I do wish more local actors of Chinese descent were cast in ethnically-specific films like this for a more authentic feel. 5/10. 






1 comment:

  1. Kim fits the role perfectly as Mayen but overall the story was just "so-so" for me. It was not that scary and it felt like the story was rushed. I was also disappointed with Robert Sena and Ina Raymundo as parents of Mayen. They did not show or made us feel that they are of Chinese lineage at all. Ina Raymundo's acting was too stiff. I say they were just a poor choice for their roles as Mayen's parents. Also, when the sword fighting scene started I felt like I was watching an MMFF fantasy film, it was just unnecessary and ruined the supposed to be scary mood of the film.

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