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The Death Curse
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(top row, left to right) Charlene Choi, Gillian Chung and Alex Fong
(bottom row, left to right) Kenny Kwan, Stephen Cheung and Raymond Wong
Year: 2003  
Director: Soi Cheang Pou-Soi  
Producer: Amy Tsui  
Cast: Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin, Gillian Chung Yun-Tung, Kenny Kwan Chi-Bun, Steven Cheung Chi-Hung, Alex Fong Chung-Sun, Raymond Wong Ho-Yin, Lawrence Chou Chun-Wai, Qiu LiEr, Zhou Bo, Sun XizoYan, Sun LeQiu, Chen XianDa
The Skinny: Well-directed fluff which succeeds at being entertaining—in a Scooby Doo meets Troublesome Night sort of way. Though this cinematic trifle might understandably annoy some, Teenybopper Twins fans and their money were probably happily parted.
by Kozo:

     They're inseparable! Yep, the Twins are back. If last summer's entertaining, but bizarre The Twins Effect did not supply your fill of wholesome Doublemint cuteness, Charlene Choi (the taller one) and Gillian Chung (the cuter one) have reteamed for The Death Curse. Directed by Soi Cheang, the film is a ultra-light mixture of creepy Asian horror, dopey popstar hijinks and wacky Scooby Doo-style plotting which will probably infuriate those seeking actual filmmaking. Still, Twins fans—and people who expect next to nothing from their cinema—might find Soi Cheang's concoction to be a passably entertaining exercise in inconsequence. But beware, the Emperor Entertainment Group (EEG for short) have decided to put the Boy'z in this movie too.
     Charlene Choi is Nancy, a near-despicable Hong Kong girl who's bitchy and petulant, and even grifts money from Keith (Laurence Chou), a pathetic guy who blatantly adores her. After discovering him reading her mail (a common occurence, it would seem), it comes to light that her long-lost father, Ting Jihuai (Chen XianDa), is requesting a family reunion. With the promise of some sort of inheritance, Nancy travels to the ancestral rural home to find a passel of relatives she's never met, much less cares for. The eldest brother is Andy Ting (Zhou Bo), followed by single mother Deon (Sun XizoYan), fourth brother Nick (Raymond Wong), fifth brother Jerry (Kenny Kwan of pop group Boy'z), sixth sister Linda (Gillian Chung), and eighth brother Ben (Steven Cheung, the other part of pop group Boy'z). For those keeping score, Nancy qualifies as the seventh sister, while third brother Sam wasn't able to attend. Deon also dragged along her young daughter Fanny (Qiu LiEr), and the manor has a crusty servant named Wong (Sun LeQiu). Everyone getting this?
     These salient details are related to Nancy by Lawyer Cheung (Alex Fong), who has other news to impart: Ting died shortly after sending the letters to his offspring, which means the family reunion is now a funeral. Despite being birthed of six different mothers (Ting was apparently quite the player), the kids are all entitled to a share of the family fortune (a whopping $175 million plus 600 fruit trees, yippee!). However, there are conditions. At precisely midnight for seven consecutive days, the children must worship their father's still present corpse, which resides in a chair like the king of the mansion (ick). Even more, they must hug one another at the end of each evening, as if they give a crap about each other.
     Of course, that's the farthest thing from the truth: these people predominantly care for themselves, though there are exceptions. Eighth bro Ben is actually the nicest guy in the known universe and seems to honestly care for these siblings he's never met. Likewise, sixth sister Linda is a total sweetheart (Gillian Chung fans rejoice), who just wants everyone to get along. That might be a problem: Nick and Nancy just want their share of the dough, and eldest bro Andy may seem righteous, but when nobody's looking he goes searching for hidden loot in the house. Even worse, Nancy and Jerry once dated, and both have been pining after each other for some time. As if possible incest weren't a major problem, here comes the expected kicker: the house is haunted. People start getting possessed, dissension is sown, and it becomes painfully obvious that something isn't right in Denmark. Cue ninety minutes of wacky horror-comedy.
     To call The Death Curse an actual attempt at horror cinema would be a total fallacy. Though it was directed by Soi Cheang (who gave us the well-regarded chiller New Blood, as well as the not-bad-for-a-Blair Witch-ripoff Horror Hotline), The Death Curse is just a large package deal designed to separate teenybopper Twins fans from their parents' dough. To double (Or is it quadruple?) the potential pop box-office bonanza, EEG has stipulated that the Boy'z participate, too. For those not in the know, the Boy'z are EEG's male answer to the Twins—two cute guys who sing fluffy songs and make public appearances at shopping malls. Pairing the two pop duos equals obvious marketing appeal, so any hope of an actual film is probably as likely as The Twins Effect being more than it was: pre-packaged crap for the teenybopper set. Basically, expectations should be low.
     Which is why it's surprising that The Death Curse manages to be as creatively amusing as it is. The setup for the film's elaborate hijinks is hardly inspired, but Cheang handles things with appropriate pacing, and an appreciably droll wit. Jokes are handed out with a deadpan matter-of-factness. The humor arises just as much from what isn't said as what is—a minor rarity for a Hong Kong horror-comedy. The situations manage some level of low-key humor; when the newly-reunited family is asked to hug each other nightly, their obvious disdain is surprisingly winning. The actors are untrained (the Boy'z are no great shakes, but they're not annoying) or typical (Raymond Wong mugs, Charlene Choi whines, and Gillian Chung shines), but if anything the film plays to their strengths and/or weaknesses. Nobody stands out for their thespian skills, but nobody is a millstone either. If you're going to have Twins and Boy'z star in your film, this is probably the way to do it.
     When all is said and done, not much really seems to happen in The Death Curse. Even though it's a horror-comedy, the laughs are really quite benign, and the chills are minor to non-existent. This is not a scary movie. It's just a slightly funny, amusing one—which is actually a success if you think about it. When marketing mavens put together something as egregiously manufactured as this (The Twins and the Boy'z? Where's the Happy Meal tie-in?), crap is pretty much all you would normally expect AND get. The Death Curse looks like it's going to be crap, but it really isn't. The eventual Scooby Doo-like plot twists could annoy some, but when the ninety-minute mark rolls around, it seems that something minor actually happened. The film's deliberate cynicism gives way to more touchy-feely emotions, but the transition is never forced, nor is it wholly obvious. After all the required actor mugging, silly plot twists, and forced situations, the characters are supposed to like one another, and strangely enough it works. Sure, the film accomplishes absolutely zippo, but for what it apparently is (manufactured marketing for two teenybopper pop duos), The Death Curse does okay. (Kozo 2004)

Awards: 10th Annual Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards
• Recommended Film
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Universe Laser
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable Chinese and English Subtitles
Deleted Scenes, Trailers, Featurettes

images courtesy of Universe Entertainment

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