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The Secret

Donnie Yen in SPECIAL ID

Leon Lai and Wong Luodan share a Secret.



Year: 2016  
Director: Barbara Wong Chun-Chun
Producer: Barbara Wong Chun-Chun, Andy Chen
Writer: Barbara Wong Chun-Chun

Leon Lai Ming, Wang Luodan, JJ Lin, Sandrine Pinna, Emil Ho, Sek Sau, Juan Wang

The Skinny: Romance-thriller-horror-comedy-drama from Barbara Wong refuses to stick too long with one genre and crams in too many tone shifts, plot twists and supposedly cute asides. A mess, more or less.
by Kozo:

Barbara Wong's The Secret routinely surprises, but not in a good way. This ghost-romantic-thriller-comedy-drama-whatever crosses into nearly a dozen genres but finds little success with any of them. Secret opens dramatically, with Kaifeng (Leon Lai) eating alone while grieving for his wife Quijie (Wang Luodan), who recently died in an accident. The next morning, however, she returns as an ethereal figure bathed in overexposed white, while possessing no memory of her departure. A spirit woman warns Kaifeng that Quijie's return from the dead must be kept a secret from her, or her stay on Earth might end. This neatly sets up the film's conflict: Can Kaifeng keep Quijie's undead status from her? But Quijie glimpses a horrific image in the bathroom mirror that hints at her true nature. It seems things may get scary or supernatural, which is certainly a feasible direction for the film.

However, rather than expand on the horror elements, Secret whisks us off to daffy romcom land as the slightly-amnesiac Quijie rediscovers her life with Kaifeng and their son Mumu (Emil Ho). However, nobody can see her but people who truly love her – a big problem because if she doesn't know that she's undead and leaves the house and discovers that nobody can see her, well, the jig is up, isn't it? That massive sitcom problem aside, Quijie also rediscovers "Hello, Stranger," a roleplay game that she and Kaifeng sometimes play to spice up their marriage. Thanks to flashbacks, the audience sees the two meeting in exotic foreign locales while pretending to be strangers, leading to an impromptu catwalk in a Japanese bar, or a cutesy "I'm a Korean girl! I can't speak Chinese!" meet at the base of the Himalayas. Presumably these moments are meant to be funny or romantic, but instead come off as labored and cringeworthy.

The parade of bewildering emotions continues. Slapstick enters in the form of singer J.J. Lin, who plays Kaifeng's cousin Jimmy. When Jimmy sees Quijie walking around, he performs alarmed double takes that would do Seinfeld's Kramer proud. Meanwhile, Jimmy's wife Yanzi (Sandrine Pinna) acts like she's in a catty Mean Girls tribute, which hurts Quijie's feelings and leads to the realization that maybe she's not supposed to be hanging around post, uh, whatever it was that happened that turned her into a spirit. This is the moment where Quijie either has to surrender to her fate or attempt to combat it. Hey, it sounds like we may be nearing the end of the film – but no, this is just the first half! With multiple plot twists strewn throughout, Secret is all about its upended expectations, and works hard to cram in so many emotional moments and shock surprises that it neglects to develop much.

Barbara Wong paces the film decently, and gives adequate time to each scene, but is still unable to overcome her overcomplicated plotting. All the stuff that should be explored is glossed over because the film is luxuriating in its supposedly cute or tragic moments, or is setting up its next plot twist. Also, the main “keep Quijie's return a secret” plotline has too many holes to be reasonable and the climax is poorly set up. The film makes a big deal out of a bit of closure, which is weird because it involves a relationship that’s only mentioned once in passing, and isn’t developed at all until we’re practically at the end of the film. There’s also the mystery of how the story will be justified for China censors because it hints at the supernatural. Don’t worry, the filmmakers cover their ass with a final groan-worthy voiceover – but by then it doesn’t matter because Secret has long fallen apart.

Given all its flaws, Secret is an out-of-control mess, and Barbara Wong lacks the storytelling skill to bring the film to heel. Wong presents the film in serious, faux-elegant style while mismanaging tone and letting her actors roam all over the place. Lai uses his cute, dorky persona here and it's a bad fit, while the usually effective Wang Luodan seems lost. Supporting actors are fine given their limited screentime though it often feels like they’re not in the same film as the leads. Also, the visual effects are distractingly poor, and don't mesh well with the otherwise solid production values. Secret still possesses enough soap opera exchanges to engage a certain audience – including presumably Barbara Wong, who really seems to buy into her clichéd themes and emotions. However, filmgoers seeking consistency, depth or genuine surprise will probably end up exasperated and bewildered at how Secret's romantic-horror premise is so mystifyingly executed. The Secret's secret is that it's a bad film. (Kozo, 8/2016)

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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