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Tsui Hark's Missing

Angelica Lee has another elevator encounter in Missing.
Chinese: 深海尋人
Year: 2008
Director: Tsui Hark
Producer: Tsui Hark
Writer: Tsui Hark

Angelica Lee Sum-Kit, Isabella Leong, Chang Chen, Guo Xiao-Dong, Chang Chen-Yue, Tony Leung Ka-Fai

The Skinny: Missing misses the mark - big time. Tsui Hark's love story disguised as a horror flick is overlong and interminable, and a worrisome sign from the one-time master. A victim of the Curse of China Co-production™.
by Kozo:

Have you ever wished that a movie would never end? Well, Tsui Hark's Missing is here to grant your wish. However, that's not because the movie is so good that you'll want it to go on forever, but because every time the movie looks like it's going to end, it doesn't. This horror-thriller switches directions often, changing genres and plotlines like most people change their clothes, and it possesses the endings to match. By the time the film seems to end for the fifth time, some audience members may exclaim, "Wow, this film is really trying!" The film really is trying, as are the actors and filmmakers, but for what purpose, it's hard to really tell. When Missing ends, you may find yourself cheering because it's finally, mercifully, and totally over. That is, unless you buy the DVD, in which case you have the option of a second or even third test of your tolerance. If that describes you, then we salute your bravery.

Angelica Lee takes a break from Pang Brothers-directed horror films for a Tsui Hark-directed horror film - and yep, she sees ghosts yet again. Lee is Gao Jing, a psychiatrist who goes into a funk when her photographer boyfriend Guo Dong (Guo Xiao Dong) is killed during a diving accident off the coast of Japan. Gao Jing was present too, but she conveniently lost a portion of her memory, so she can't remember how Guo Dong died, or how his head ended up getting separated from his body. Yep, Guo Dong's funeral is held sans noggin, a fact that upsets Guo Dong's sister Xiao Kai (Isabella Leong), who believes that the body is not Guo Dong and that her brother may still be alive. Pissed at Gao Jing for going ahead with a funeral starring a headless corpse, Xiao Kai heads off to look for Guo Dong's body once more.

Distressed and in need of some of her own professional help, Gao Jing looks to her boss, Tang (Tony Leung Ka-Fai sporting a natty perm) for some hypnotism therapy. However, once hypnotized, Gao Jing starts speaking Shanghainese, and talks about some Japanese newspaper article before completing her session by knocking the tar out of Tang. Something is obviously wrong with Gao Jing, and the secret to her psychosis is provided by one of her patients, Simon (an amusingly addled Chang Chen), who reveals that he's actually met Guo Dong in ghostly form. Apparently, some of Tang's psychiatric drugs can induce ghost-seeing visions, and Simon currently sees plenty of the departed, including Guo Dong and his dead ex-girlfriend. Gao Jing initially thinks Simon is crazy, but before long she's convinced, and welcomes her own ghostly visitors in the hopes that one of them will be Guo Dong. But word arrives that Xiao Kai is returning to Hong Kong, and bringing Guo Dong's head with her. Xiao Kai also seems pissed.

The premise of Missing is intriguing enough, taking the ubiquitous "seeing ghosts" genre and dressing it up with an underwater setting and pseudo-psychological details. The film reveals early on that ghosts are apparently real, and Tsui Hark chooses a strange but effective low-tech way in which to portray his undead. The ghosts frequently show up as looming black-garbed figures, if not pale and gory spectres, and Tsui gets some okay mileage from his appropriation of tried and true horror movie tropes. Tsui even presents his own variation on the now-classic elevator scene from The Eye, and while his version isn't as tense, it does have its own effectiveness. The supernatural concepts eventually get more than a little strange, but there's a creativity present that sometimes feels like the Tsui Hark of old. Tsui is famous for pulling ideas, themes, and concepts out of thin air, and mashing them together into a genre cocktail. But, he's still been able to find some feeling, delivering effective character moments in love stories, action films, wacky comedies, or some mixture of the above. There are some conceits in Missing that are bizarre, cheesy, and more than a little crass, but Tsui Hark has done similar things before, and has walked away showing that he can get away with it.

Unfortunately, Tsui Hark doesn't get away with it here. Missing is a multi-genre film, but it basically sticks to two genres - romance and horror - and nixes the comedy or across-the-board emotion that usually makes it easier to forgive Tsui's cheesy excesses. Movies like Time and Tide and Love in the Time of Twilight were more successful than expected because they dabbled in multiple genres and emotions, and did so breathlessly, such that audiences were so busy trying to catch up that they glossed over the silly stuff. Missing does possess some of the same feel, especially during the development of the ghost-seeing storyline, but the bottom line of the film is that it's a love story. And not just any love story, but an overwrought, overlong and interminable love story that's so exhausting that a viewer will likely not care much about the lovers once the film ends. Angelica Lee is a fine actress, and plays her part without a hint of irony or self-preservation, but Tsui Hark essentially puts her out on a limb and lets her fend for herself. Unfortunately, the limb breaks.

Missing is simply misguided, and not in a way that makes it tolerable. Its story and strange concepts are at least diverting, and the visuals and sound design (the film possesses creative and quite loud sound) are involving enough for a portion of the running time. Unfortunately, the film suffers from the dreaded Curse of China Co-production™, and attempts to please Mainland censors while not trying to undermine itself. The filmmakers fail miserably at that, however, taking most of their ideas and flushing them down the toilet willingly - all to please a ratings board that delights in banning supernatural concepts, depictions of incompetent Chinese authority, and movies starring Sharon Stone. Incomplete ideas, abandoned characters, and multiple climaxes send Missing off a cliff, such that the words "tiresome", "irritating", and "unbelievable" could be invoked. There's an attempt at compelling emotion here, and Tsui Hark sells it via every ounce of his writer/producer/director credit. But he takes way too long to get where he's going, and his bag of tricks is so labored and even bewildering that it ultimately repels instead of seduces. Heart and creativity aren't missing from Missing, but judgement and restraint are. A good editor would help, too. (Kozo 2008)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
2-DVD Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin and Cantonese Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 6.1EX / DTS 6.1ES
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

image credit: Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen