Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Maid - 68%

This is Singapore director Kelvin Tong's latest work. His last being "Eating Air" which impressed me very much so on the "technical" level (production values, art direction, camera works, editing etc), but not so much on the story aspect. As for the maid, I am glad to say that the idea for the story was sound, but the execution and writing was somewhat flawed. It was a pity really, because the idea had potential.

The story is about a Filipino maid who travelled to Singapore, and worked for a Teochew family that also runs the opera. Strange things started unfolding during the Chinese 7th month, and this poor maid was haunted left right center by beings everywhere. The story has a twist which was such a reminiscence of some really really good previous academy award winning/nominated horror films (think "6th sense" and "The Others") that it makes the unavoidable comparison. And this is part of where the problem lies - originality. I will not reveal too much of the plot so as to preserve the experience of any other movie goer.

I am a HUGE fan of the horror genre and I will watch any A, B or C grade horror movies that I can get my hands on. From primary 4, I've been watching horror movies almost weekly and I can safely say that I have watched almost anything that's out there since the 80s (. And the movie that got me started was none other than the "Evil Dead". So I can't tell u how much I am really looking forward to this local production. But still I want to be as objective as possible and try not to nitpick.

The flaws:

1) Too many "frequently used" scare tactics. The quick cut followed by a loud sharp noise/scream/sound. Creaky door(s). The impossible scary scenes that turn out to be nightmares. Well, Kelvin Tong seems to have brainstormed a series of what scares people and placed them into his story's context. Nothing really "surprising", but more "seen befores". Why not use this opportunity to showcase some local flavoured scares? He could have up-played more "local" elements like dwelling more into what is the gates of hell, the reason why these foods are being offered, why the 7th month, and remind us why we should go home with fear - not just what scares the girl. Because what happened to the maid, could not have just happened to just anyone. But if the elements of "this could happen to anyone" is more fleshed out, it could have been creepier.

2) Redundancies - I am one who believes that every scene in a movie must serve a purpose. If not, it is just plain a waste of time. There are quite a lot of redundancies in this film. For instance - the little boy with a ball (this is so cliche!!! how many times have people redid something like this since the Eye?!!!) , the unnecessary scares for scares sake, the checking out of the creaky doors, the death of the other maid etc. These are just some examples i can recall - I should have walked in with a notebook to track them.

3) Incredulous - Ok, this is a supernatural movie, so it must be "incredible" to a certain extent. So how can the movie maintain it's credibility? The answer lies in how the characters are portrayed and written. Here is where the movie fails to convince too. The characters behave in a way that is acceptable in writing, but not when put onto screen. You watch the characters behave in one manner this moment and then another next. *SPOLIER ALERT**One part which irks me a lot was after the couple brought the maid back after she fainted at the mailbox, why didn't they just tie her up and do what they wanted to do with her? So that the drama of her walking to the table, watching them eating dinner (why the hell are they pretending like the maid doesn't know anything?), briefly joining them, and then screaming "I know what you did!", then running off, and then letting them catch her again can unfold?? Silly silly silly! And why did the other maid jump off? What's the point of that? And why was she laughing? Or was it just bad acting? Then there's Chen Shuchen on fire holding his wife's hand talking - while he was burning??? Arghhhh! and more and more.

Ok, after all the flaws what's worth watching? The sets were well designed. The production value was high and it shows. The film is very well shot - technically. And the acting by the main actors, Chen Shuchen, Hong Huifang, Alessandra De Rossi, and Benny Soh, all put in admirable performances. It is just a pity the script let all the good down.