Site Features
- Asian Film Awards
- Site Recommendations

- Reader Poll Results

- The Sponsor Page
- The FAQ Page
support this site by shopping at
Click to visit
Asian Blu-ray discs at
Hungry Ghost Ritual
Hungry Ghost Ritual

Annie Liu and Nick Cheung participate in Hungry Ghost Ritual.
Chinese: 盂蘭神功
Year: 2014
Director: Nick Cheung Ka-Fai
Producer: Adrian Teh
Writer: Adrian Teh
Cast: Nick Cheung Ka-Fai, Annie Liu, Carrie Ng Ka-Lai, Cathryn Lee, Lin Wei, Eric Chen, Karena Teo
The Skinny: Solid scares highlight this otherwise underwhelming horror effort from first-time director Nick Cheung. Intriguing cultural connections are a plus while the incomplete development counts as a minus. At this juncture, Cheung is a much better actor than filmmaker.
by Kozo:
Nick Cheung throws his hat into the directing ring with Hungry Ghost Ritual, a distinctly Chinese horror film that occasionally frightens but misses too many opportunities to be considered exemplary. Cheung does double duty in this Malaysia-Hong Kong co-production, directing and also starring as Zong Hua, an entrepreneur who reunites with his estranged family in Malaysia after a failed venture in China. Zong Hua’s return home creates tension with both his father Xiaotian (Lam Wai) and half-sister Jing Jing (Cathryn Lee), but matters escalate when Xiaotian is hospitalized and Zong Hua is asked to serve as the master of Xiaotian’s Cantonese Opera troupe. The big issue is Zong Hua’s unfamiliarity with Cantonese Opera traditions, specifically the superstitious rites that ensure safety from spirits. With the midsummer Hungry Ghost Festival approaching, there’ll be plenty of spirits roving about – and unfortunately, there are hidden particulars that could make the opera troupe’s upcoming performance a proverbial ghost magnet. Will Zong Hua be able to stop dead hecklers from messing with the opera?

Nope, he won’t, because without some haunting there wouldn’t be a movie. Nick Cheung’s direction is competent in the scary sequences; he uses shock music cues effectively, and some scenes generate solid tension. Highlights include pretty much any scene where Zong Hua is trolled by ghosts while alone, including forays into cinemas, darkened streets and also Zong Hua’s bedroom, which he outfits with a CCTV workstation to monitor potential spectral activity. One moment in the film clearly references a 2013 viral video of Elisa Lam, a young Canadian-Chinese who behaved eerily in a security video before disappearing from her Los Angeles hotel. She was later found dead in a rooftop cistern, though that particular detail is not reenacted here. The reference is pandering but effectively unnerves. Possessed characters are a big part of Hungry Ghost Ritual, and the way they’re portrayed – as spooky sleepwalkers, limbs-failing victims and ultimately murderous demons – makes for harrowing buildup. On the surface, there’s enough in Hungry Ghost Ritual to entertain scare-seekers.

A deeper look magnifies the flaws, however. The screenplay (from Malaysian filmmaker Adrian Teh) spends too much time hinting at revelations without actually explaining matters. Zong Hua’s bad luck in China is referenced but proves insignificant, and his conflict with the troupe – they aren’t happy with Zong Hua taking over for his father – is barely explored. Also, Zong Hua’s budding romance with the troupe’s lead actress Xiu Yin (Annie Liu) generates little interest. Acting is passable but unremarkable; Annie Liu’s expressions are labored and Cheung is unimpressive despite his trademark underplaying. The story also features flashbacks to an earlier incarnation of the opera troupe, with Carrie Ng making an appearance as that era’s leading actress. The cause of these horror shenanigans is apparently karmic, and yet the links between past and present aren’t strongly established. Everything is here – a detailed backstory and an intricate web of characters – but the storytelling and dialogue aren’t strong enough to connect the dots for the audience.

On the plus side, the Hungry Ghost Festival makes a fine backdrop and provides strong cultural support for the film’s suspense. Despite being a neophyte to the specific rites practiced by the opera troupe, Zong Hua has the general knowledge that most Chinese do, meaning he’s concerned when he knocks over food offerings for the dead, or freaks out when people leave the same offerings at his bedside. These moments are obviously more resonant for a Chinese audience, though international viewers should get the gist. Cinematography is murky but the film is able to differentiate between its past and present segments easily, thanks to differing color palettes and art direction. Hungry Ghost Ritual is OK for a low-expectation one-off but could have been more with a better screenplay, or if Nick Cheung were a stronger director. For a debut work, Hungry Ghost Ritual is competent, but it demonstrates little personality and doesn’t whet the appetite for another Cheung-directed endeavor. At least he’ll always be great at his day job. (Kozo, 7/2014)



DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
CN Entertainment Ltd.
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
Find this at

back to top Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen