Visible Secret (2001)

Reviewed by: Hyomil
Date: 04/07/2011

Reviewer Score: 2

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 07/23/2008

After being beheaded for preaching the new cult of Christianity in Florence , St. Minias picked up his head, replaced it on his neck and walked to his hermitage in the hills above the city where he died with dignity. It must have been quite a show. In "Visible Secret" Anthony Wong (a saint worshipped only by a small sect of Hong Kong movie fans) did not fare as well. When he loses his head under the credits--and under the wheels of a tram--he manages only to pick up his briefcase and stagger away. This leads to no end of complications for people who were at the scene, others who weren't some who hadn't yet been born.

The movie shows the visible, everyday, tangible world and the world of ghosts, demonic possession and ghastly vision, treating both worlds as equally real, integral and important. Peter, a slacker/hipster who likes to hang around in discos slips back and forth between the two worlds, not comfortable in either of them and worried that the ghostly one may be a manifestation of mental illness, an affliction that either he or those around him suffer. Eason Chan is more than adequate in this role.

Peter gets the surprise of a lifetime one night at the disco when he is approached by a gorgeous young woman who looks quite mysterious in her eye-patch and satin jacket. She picks him up and announces to her boyfriend that it is OK for her to kiss Peter in public because he is her boyfriend. When the guy who had been her boyfriend until about 30 seconds before this exchange—a man much bigger and tougher looking than Peter—June tells him that he is now the ex-boyfriend. June goes home with Peter who can’t believe his good luck. As well he shouldn’t, of course.

Seeing June through Peter’s eyes the audience thinks she might be crazy or might actually see ghosts. She may also be more than one person or even not a person at all—perhaps she sees ghosts because she is one herself. Shu Qi nails this character as well as any actress has ever done any role. Even though June is not a role for the ages—this is not Medea, Ilsa Lund or Lady Macbeth—there is no part of June that she doesn’t inhabit. She is also as beautiful as she has ever been—which is a lot. A knockout performance.

Simon is June’s opposite. He is as much in the here and now, as much a citizen of the world that can be seen, touched and heard with the earthbound senses as June is of the “other” world. June sees ghosts; Simon sees that Peter had better get a job. June communicates with ghosts; Simon tells ghost stories to convince a girl she should spend the night with him. Given his billing and what one can tell of the structure of the film (there were clearly some ham-handed edits) Simon, well played by Sam Lee, might have had a larger role than he wound up with.

The horrible editing is most obvious in a few scenes that begin but don’t really end and in other that refer to something that the characters have experienced but that the audience didn’t see. Lo Wan Tat, Peter’s brother, and his family come and go for no discernable reason. There is the beginning of a touching and possibly revelatory reunion between the brothers that is dropped and not picked up again. An important person to the story, one who is close to the family and knows their secrets, is never introduced or explains. She just shows up, makes a couple of shocking pronouncements and isn’t seen again. She was either a hospital social worker or Peter’s mother. Or his aunt. Or someone else. Ann Hui is much to skilled a filmmaker to let such loose ends just slip by—“Visible Secret” looks like a movie that was edited after the director had thought she was finished with it.

Kara Hui is terrific. She gives searing performance as a woman possessed (or driven mad) by shame, guilt, poverty and loneliness. An astonishingly talented and still very attractive actress, if there is a Chinese equivalent of Blanche Dubois, Kara Hui would own the role. In her big scene—at it is a very big scene—there is a nice blend of suspense, scares and slapstick--at first she is scary as she attacks Eason continuing to drag him back and forth down a long hallway, clearly determined to get somewhere with him. This becomes ridiculous after a bit and finally goes way over the top when she is seized by competing invisible forces and literally pulled in opposite directions by them.

Based on the trailers, the cast list and the box art there must have been scenes in the subway that were completely chopped out. The combination of subway hijinks and Anthony Wong’s head being separated from his body by the tram—all in one movie--may have been too much for the public transit authorities in Hong Kong.

Reviewed by: JohnR
Date: 05/05/2006
Summary: Then Maybe a Third

This is an excellent ghost story. If you watch it expecting a horror movie you'll be disappointed; there's no blood or cascading intestines. And if it was Ann Hui's intent to scare us, then she failed, but I don't believe this was her goal. It does exude eeriness, though, and a creepy tension.

The plot of the movie is difficult to follow, but that's not because it's garbled or confusing, it's because it's intricate. And Ms. Hui, to her credit, doesn't explain what's going on - she just puts it out there and leaves it to the audience to follow. I confess that I didn't follow it after one viewing; it took me about three to get everything. But once you've unravelled it, it's more satisfying than, say, The Eye (which came out the next year). The Eye captured everyone's attention, and I enjoyed it, too; but I think Visible Secret is the better movie. It's at least as good. In any case, I like movies that reward repeated viewing.

The key to the movie is possession by ghosts. At any given time, any given character may be possessed by either one of two ghosts. Ghost A is the ghost of the guy who gets hit by the trolly at the start of the movie; Ghost B is a young woman who - well I don't want to possibly get into spoiler territory. (There is one scene where a minor character is possessed by two ghosts at the same time, Ghost A plus another one, not Ghost B. But otherwise, the rule holds true.) During the climax things speed up, with one of the ghosts jumping from one person to another, but ironically, that's the easiest part to follow.

I don't think it's a spoiler to point out that Shu Qi's character does not have a dual personality. She's the person some times, and other times she's the person possessed by one of the ghosts. The key is in her clothing and demeanor.

As has been pointed out, Shu Qi does a very good job. Eason Chan is also just right as the sort of everyman shlemiel through whom we navigate the plot. If you liked The Eye, give this one a try. Then a second try.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 12/18/2004
Summary: "high-minded ghost story"

Maybe her best role yet, Shu Qi can see ghost's, sort of a 'sixth sense'. Ann Hui gives us a very stylish, high-minded ghost story that wants to be a romantic love story. It's very well produced, but the script has it's flaws. Anthony Wong pulls off another creepy supporting role that he always throws himself into with great gusto. Sam Lee cruises through another role, maybe the luckiest guy in Hong Kong movies.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: trenty
Date: 06/09/2002
Summary: A 4/10 movie.

As comparing with other ghost genre movies released recently, "Visible Secret" could have be one of the come back of Hong Kong style ghost movies.

This movie involves two main stories but somehow affected the main characters at the same time. The first story was about a man who lost his head during an car accident located at West-Central in Hong Kong. The second one is a romance ghost story about a girl who waits for her boyfriend. Although there are no relationship between both stories but they do affect the main characters.

Supposingly, the movie started off with a scary introduction where a man's head was lost during a car accident. However, when the movie moves on, this story seems to lose it's ending. This story did not mentioned until after the first half of the movie. Moreover, the computer graphics were not good enough to scare the viewers. As to the second story which was considered as a romance kind of ghost story, a great disappointment here. I expected this story would be another romance ghost story that made by previous films. But all I got was a confusing story after all. In general, the story telling in this movie was a mess. The script was probably being edited a lot of time and messed up the whole plot of this movie. The reason I mention this is because there supposed to have another story involved here. As for the details, I personally do not know much. However, as far as I know was that the other story was about a whiteface woman (a ghost I suppose) sitting at the MTR. Due to the disturbance matters against the audiences at the MTR, those movie posters, which were posted at the MTR station, were taken off. Rather, I think because of this matter, the whole story was taken off too from the movie itself. I do expect this story to in be the movie because that whiteface woman is kind of scary. Still, I expect more from the 'taken-off' story more than those two that were in the film.

As to the performances, Eason Chan has his main role in the movie along with Shu Qi. Both actor/actress were well done. However, I still find Shu Qi's speaking were not good. Other supporting roles such as Sam Lee and Cheung Tat Ming were at their standard. Moreover, they do bring some humorous scenes in the movie.

To conclude, this movie could have be a come back for Hong Kong style scary movies. However, due to the confusing story telling involved, the movie resulted as a mess. I will not recommend this movie because the plot was a mess. I can consider this movie as boring and confusing.

Reviewer Score: 4

Reviewed by: Inner Strength
Date: 05/09/2002

Now although I'm not the biggest fan of horror films, this one is actually not too bad. In fact, I started watching it and before I realised the time, it finished. Not saying it's short, but just very entertaining that kept me interested the whole way through.

If you like the horror genre, this is a must. Not to say it has no flaws though.

Rating: 3.5/5

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 01/03/2002
Summary: Pretty good

i knew this wouldn't really scare me since no modern day hk ghost story does!! But it did give a chilling atmosphere and some scary moments.

Shu qui plays her roles very well while EAson seem a bit unconvincing, or maybe it was her character. I wont' say so much since there is already heaps written but the ending was quite good, though i am not sure who is who!! If people know, email me and tell me please becasue ia m unsure about the ending!!


Reviewed by: magic-8
Date: 08/24/2001
Summary: Creepy Entertainment

Ann Hui's "Visible Secret" starts off with great promise as a horror movie, but can't keep its identity intact as it borders on being a kind of "whodunit" mystery. Shu Qi and Eason Chan star in this atmospherically eerie film, which contains shades of "The Sixth Sense," where Shu has the ability to see dead people with one of her eyes. To ward off these visions, Shu wears a patch over the eye. Anthony Wong makes a notable cameo as a victim of a car accident that centers around much of what transpires during this film.

There aren't many scares or frights in the movie, although several scenes have some tension to them as you try and figure out what's going on. Eason meets up with Shu and they begin a bumpy relationship, where they both are haunted by past events. Hui injects horror by establishing how an accident from the past will determine what happens in the present. The payoff is in who or what actually happened in the car accident that beheaded Anthony Wong, mixing in a tangential plot device about a lovelorn woman who commits suicide.

There are many scenes that seem familiar in the presentation of people being possessed by ghosts. Qi's ability to see dead people doesn't manifest itself on screen and is only alluded to through Qi's reactions or through the possessed. Because of this, the scare factor is very low. Hui's lack of confidence in the horror aspects is very apparent, so she switches gears towards the end of the film to turn it into a mystery, as Chan tries to figure out what happened during that fateful night, connecting Shu and Chan's father. It's too bad that the subway scenes weren't used. The promotion with the ghost on the train among the passengers looks very scary.

Hui doesn't take any risks or present anything new, but she does a fine job in keeping the audience entertained. The film breezes along with uniformly good pacing and acting by the cast.

Reviewed by: Trigger
Date: 08/05/2001
Summary: Came close to being scary, but not quite

Visible Secret stars Shu Qi, Sam Lee ("Alien" from Gen-X Cops), Eason Chan (who hasn't been in too much), and Anthony Wong (briefly). It's a ghost story somewhat. Chinese ghost story films seem to differ substantially from US ghost stories. We seem to have a different take on ghosts in general. If you're used to US ghost movies - it might take a little time to adjust to the Chinese "rules" for ghosts as they are a bit differet. It's hard to explain the differences because most of them are so subtle, but they add up and it's a completely different experience.

If I had to sum it up, I'd say that the Chinese versions of ghosts are much more theatrical while ours are much more etherial (if that makes any sense)... Also - their ghosts seem to behave more like zombies while ours seem to be much more emotional and ... well... ghostly.

In any case, this film seems to have that take on ghosts... they are zombies that walk among us and most people can't see them. They also have some sort of reason why they are sticking around. They posess the living and make them do strange things. You can make them go away if you get them to feel that the thing they've been hanging around for has taken place.

This film had many things going for it. Shu Qi is always a good thing (as far as I'm concerned - others feel quite the opposite) and she turns out a very nice (and fully clothed) performance in this film. She plays a quirky and emotional love interest for our hero/main character (sound familiar?) played by Eason Chan who also turned out a decent performance. In all fairness, this is one of Shu Qi's better roles (that I've seen) and it gives her more range than other films have. I don't want to give anything away, but I'll just say that she plays a person who seems to have a bit of a dual personality. This film also has a nice creepy musical score - which is important in a horror film as it sets the tone. In addition, this film has a great story, a good supporting cast, some good special effects and I felt the characters were well developed.

So what went wrong? This film came pretty close to actually being scary, but never achieved this for me. I like being scared when I see a horror flick. This one isn't a gore fest (although there are a few scenes of nice gore), so it should rely on creeping the audience out. This didn't creep me out much if at all. Part of it could be due to the cinematography which was somewhat flat. There were a few moments of stylish and creative camera sweeps and tricks, but for the most part the camera wasn't used to their advantage - it was as if they had never done a horror film before. I certainly feel that this film could've been 100X better with a bit of creative camera work and just a few minor changes here and there. It just didn't have much impact. There were a few Hitchcock moments and some interesting visuals, but then for most of the film, the camera doesn't move - it doesn't pan much, it rarely tracks and it made me feel like I was sitting still watching a play. The movie went to the trouble of presenting these creepy things and yet it didn't try to "sell" any of it with the camera. That's one thing US filmmakers are good at - selling creepy scenes with the camera. I just think this movie would've worked better had it been more stylish.

Ann Hui directed this picture and it certainly wasn't her first, so I don't understand why this one didn't quite work. I haven't seen any of her other films, so I couldn't say how skilled she is as a director.

I don't like to give away information about plots when doing reviews... I think it's best to discover it yourself as you watch. So I won't say anything about the plot except that it's a love story with ghosts.

The DVD:
I watched the new Mega Star Region 0 DVD. It's really nice. It has a beautiful, clean transfer in 16X9 Anamorphic Widescreen. The subtitles are clear and easy to read - they appear over the film and not in the bottom bar, but that doesn't bother me. Only a few grammar and spelling mistakes and a few instances of things not being translated and I only noticed the timing being off in a few spots. Nothing major or distracting. The audio was Cantonese DD5.1 or Mandarin DD5.1. I listened to the Cantonese audio which was very nice. The surrounds were put to good use and there were even some good scenes for my subwoofer. Only problem with the sound is that the levels weren't very balanced - The sub and the rears were a bit high and the center was a bit quiet - one adjustment should be fine for the whole film and even if you don't adjust it, it should be fine.

The disc also includes a Trailer, a Teaser and a Making Of documentary (10 - 20 minutes I guess? forgot to look) - none of which is subtitled. It's still interesting anyway. There is also a comic version of the story included (but might be too small to see on a TV smaller than 40". A very nice disc indeed - especially for $83HKD (roughly $10 - $11 US).

I'd say it's certainly worth asking price. I wouldn't pay more than that for this film because I didn't feel it was strong enough to warrant the twenty bucks DVDs tend to cost in the US. I'll probably watch it again at some point for Shu Qi, but it was a little bit of a let-down for a creepy horror film.

The film:

The DVD:

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: MilesC
Date: 06/06/2001
Summary: Ann Hui goes mainstream: still boring.

My expectations for this were nil, but I was still let down. Despite a promising opening featuring Anthony Wong, this movie goes nowhere, and does it very slowly. With Ann Hui at the helm one would expect more of an attempt at being something "more" than a simple ghost story, but other than a vague "karma" thematic and a twist ending I couldn't even be bothered to figure out, this just isn't so. The only good thing I can say about it is that the cinematography, lighting and art direction are nice, but other than that and a good supporting cast (a shame they're all wasted) there's not much good to be said for Visible Secret. Although the audience I saw the film with got a few jokes that I missed, and one or two high-strung young women apparently found parts of it scary, the general feeling as we filed out seemed to be one of "well, that sucked."

Reviewed by: baoshikang
Date: 06/04/2001
Summary: Disappointing. No flying Hsu Chi.

I read that she wanted to do a ghost movie so she could fly (probably sorry she didn't take CTHD), but there's no flying Chi Chi in this film. Or any suspense or logic either. Also, no subway scenes, which feature strongly in trailer and print ads (the MTR objected. Didn't want commuters scared(!!), so they cut the scenes). Perhaps that's partly why the plot makes little sense. There is some humor, and the locals seemed to think it was really pretty funny. One of my faves, Kara Ying Hung, does a virtuoso Jim Carrey/Steve Martin, which was the high point of the film.