Visible Secret (2001)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2008-07-23
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.