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The Great Hypnotist
The Great Hypnotist

Xu Zheng counsels Karen Mok in The Great Hypnotist (2014)


Year: 2014  
Director: Leste Chen  
Producer: Tina Shi, James Li, Xu Zheng

Endrix Ren, Leste Chen


Xu Zheng, Karen Mok Man-Wai, Hu Jing, Lü Zhong, David Wang, Guan Le, Cady Yang

The Skinny: Entertaining psychological thriller that's partially undone by a climactic and super-convenient explanation. Xu Zheng is frustratingly unsympathetic as the title character, but Karen Mok impresses as his mysterious patient. A flawed but still watchable commercial film.
by Kozo:

China box office force Xu Zheng takes on the title role in The Great Hypnotist, an intriguing and understandably flawed thriller from director Leste Chen (Say Yes, Eternal Summer). The spear-bald thespian stars as Dr. Xu Ruining (which is pronounced “Rui-Ning” and is not a synonym for “to make worse”), an arrogant psychiatrist whose practice involves the controversial use of hypnotherapy. Ruining takes on mysterious patient Ren Xiaoyan (Karen Mok), who was abandoned by her parents and claims to be seeing ghosts. Just like SAPPRFT, Ruining does not believe in ghosts, and decides to subject Xiaoyan to one of his hypnotherapy sessions. However, Ruining receives a shock when he finds himself inserted into one of Xiaoyan’s dreams, and even awakens in a cold sweat only to find Xiaoyan observing him like he’s the patient and she’s the doctor. Is Xiaoyan seeing ghosts or is she just fooling herself? What’s Ruining so nervous about and why is he so afraid of his overflowing sink? And just who’s treating who here?

The Great Hypnotist seems like it could be a psychological horror film, but true to SAPPRFT guidelines, that’s just not possible. To their credit, Leste Chen and company do a fine job of removing the need for the supernatural. The premise lends itself to plenty of misdirection and hidden motives, and the script proves surprisingly clever. Karen Mok makes a fine foil to Xu Zheng’s borderline insufferable Ruining, and possesses a strong and believable intelligence. Unfortunately, Xu Zheng overplays the arrogance and becomes unlikable – and given the film’s ultimate twists and turns, we need to like him. Xu is great as pathetic jerks who become unlikely heroes (No Man’s Land, Lost in Thailand), but Great Hypnotist requires a performance with more subtle nuance. Still, the dynamic between the two actors is solidly developed, with reversals and twists that keep tension strong. Production values and music are unsubtle but appropriate for commercial work. Leste Chen knows how to make a polished film.

Action in the film is confined as it only leaves Ruining’s noirishly-decorated office/townhouse for dreams or flashbacks. At times, Great Hypnotist feels more like a stage play than a film, but the limited mise-en-scčne keeps things tight and claustrophobic. However, a crucial plot turn sends The Great Hypnotist careening towards mediocrity. The film trends toward darkness – which seems appropriate for the subject matter (ghosts, tragedies) and character types (arrogant doctors, femme fatales) – only to disappointingly back away at the climax. Also, while everything is fully explained, the filmmakers employ a fifteen-minute flashback-packed reveal that answers everything too neatly and conveniently. For a good while, Great Hypnotist seems to be asking audiences to think, and then it goes and does all the thinking for them. This is a film that could have been so much more, but for reasons that have long become moot for Chinese cinema, it ends up as less. The Great Hypnotist is still entertaining for the majority of its running time, so we should consider it a win. Just not a decisive one. (Kozo, 7/2014)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital EX
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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