YIP WAI YEE
THE STRAITS TIMES
19 NOV 2014
The story: Mrs Wu (Sandra Ng) mourns the death of her son (Wang Po-chieh), unable to accept that he is gone. Hoping to please his spirit in every way possible, she hires a father-son pair of spirit mediums (Mark Lee and Keane Chan) to act as matchmakers and help her dead son find a wife.
This movie is promoted in Singapore as a wacky screwball comedy, the type that makes up most of local box-office king Jack Neo's resume. In Hong Kong, however, the grim poster makes the film look like a sombre, meditative drama fit for arthouse film buffs.
The actual product falls somewhere in between the two extremes - it offers some genuine laughs, but is also a thoughtful, often moving, look at how different people grieve the death of a loved one.
For retired singer Mrs Wu mourning her son, that means splurging as much money as possible on the most lavish of Chinese prayer rituals and incessantly burning the most extravagant of paper offerings.
In a lovely dream sequence, where she imagines her dead son "complaining" to her about having too many mansions to choose from in the afterlife, he is surrounded by numerous paper offerings that include even a commercial airplane.
It is a colourful and imaginative scene, if not slightly blighted by the pure coincidence of Hong Kong film-maker Pang Ho Cheung having done something similar in his family drama Aberdeen in May (this was shot last year, so it is not like it copied that film).
Mrs Wu's husband does not understand why she must be so excessive, but it soon becomes clear that this is the only way she can come to terms with the guilt of being a mother who could not protect her only child from death.
Her story comes with a twist, and while it is predictable quite early on, the film is honest enough to address it head-on.
Hong Kong actress Ng, best known for her loony comic roles, carries the entire movie here, turning in a fine performance that is equal parts restrained and downright eccentric.
It is a relief that she gets to speak naturally in Cantonese often rather than be forced to stumble in Mandarin to appeal to a larger market, especially when she has her heated arguments with Hong Kong actor Jim Chim, who plays her husband.
Just as watchable is Singapore's Mark Lee and his interactions with 14-year-old child actor Keane Chan, who make a convincing father-son pair of supernatural mediums.
The younger medium constantly questions his father if there are ghosts in this world, casting doubt on the legitimacy of their jobs as his classmates begin to ostracise him for being overly superstitious.
Thankfully, the movie never takes on a superior tone about whether such traditional rituals are still relevant in the modern world. It simply points out that they serve as good avenues for the mourners to deal with their grief, so that they can eventually move on with their own lives.
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