Blood Stained Shoes
China, 2012, colour, 2.35:1, 84 mins.
Director: Ye Weimin 叶伟民 [Raymond Yip].
So-so village ghost story with an interesting cast and curious structure.
Yuan village, southern China, soon after the end of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-45). Twenty-year-old He Chujun (Ye Xiqi), recently graduated from teacher’s training college in Shanghai, returns to her native village, where some women are still waiting for their men to return. Among them are Su Er (Lin Xinru), who has two young children and has supported herself the past three years through embroidery, and her sister-in-law by marriage, Xu Shi (Mo Xiaoqi), who has been running her husband’s wine-making business in his absence and has a teenage son, Shen Ling (Harashima Daichi). Su Er is married to Shen Xuanqing (Chen Xiaodong) and Xu Shi to his brother, Shen Xuanbai (Tang Wenlong). Only Shen Xuanbai comes home at present, but missing a leg; and his war experience has turned him impotent. Wang Zhiyuan (Xing Minshan), a local councillor, keeps Su Er’s hopes up by saying he’s heard Shen Xuanqing will be home soon. By the time of the Ghost Festival, in late summer, Shen Xuanqing has still not appeared. Wang Zhiyuan still mourns his wife Xiaoyin, who died in labour 15 years ago and whose death was blamed on the “birth devil” by the village’s conservative elder, Madame Zhen (Hui Yinghong). He Chujun is due to return the next day to Shanghai to visit her parents, and also take Shen Ling to college there. On the night of the festival, while Shen Xuanbai and Xu Shi are getting drunk, Su Er is taken out of town by rickshaw runner Ding Dashan (Han Zhi) to deliver some embroidered shoes. Ding Dashan is later found dead, his head bashed in, and Su Er is sentenced to drowning by the village’s elders, egged on by Madame Zhen. Soon afterwards, Su Er’s ghostly presence stalks the village and people start dying.
Made by the same Hong Kong duo of producer-writer Wen Jun 文隽 [Manfred Wong] and director Ye Weimin 叶伟民 [Raymond Yip] responsible for the very likeable Mainland road movie Lost on Journey 人在囧途 (2010) and the good-looking but rather thin biopic Bruce Lee My Brother 李小龙 (2010), Blood Stained Shoes 绣花鞋 is a so-so smalltown ghost story that’s more interesting for its female cast and its curious structure than anything else. Set just after the Sino-Japanese war, in a Suzhou-like village in which the women are waiting for their men to come back alive, the movie pairs Taiwan TV drama queen Lin Xinru 林心如 [Ruby Lin] (best known for goodie roles) with Beijing-born, Australian-raised actress-model 莫小棋 Mo Xiaoqi (better known for sexy roles, as in Ocean Flame 一半海水一半火焰, 2008, and Mural 画壁, 2011). Though top-billed Lin, 36, is the far more experienced actress, it’s actually Mo, 31, who makes a stronger impression in a less simpering part, as a wife who’s run her husband’s wine-making business while he’s been fighting the Japanese and now finds he’s impotent after returning home.
Between Lin and Mo is Hong Kong veteran Hui Yinghong 惠英红 [Kara Hui], 52, thundering away as the village’s evil conservative spinster and injecting some welcome life into the movie. On the sidelines is young Mainland model-singer Ye Xiqi 叶熙祺, 21, in her big-screen debut, who’s very cute but rather bland as the story’s narrator.
Running a mere 77 minutes (excluding the leisurely end credits), the film spends half of that in what looks like just the set-up for a story of haunting by an aggrieved ghost. In fact, it’s the most interesting part of the film, detailing the smalltown characters, the changing lives of its women and shifting family ties. The ghostly section of the film, with guilty parties dropping dead like flies, is relatively brief and not particularly scary – director Ye Weimin brought in fellow Hong Konger Qian Jianghan 钱江汉, who’s worked on several ghost movies, as an executive director – before the film then gradually morphs into a whodunit and whydunit, with a coda set sometime later.
Few of the men measure up to the women in personality, with the best playing coming from Xing Minshan 邢岷山 as a local councillor burying a longtime grief. Technically, the film is thoroughly professional, with good art direction by Liu Shiyun 刘世运 (stylist on East Wind Rain 东风雨, 2010), attractive photography by Taiwan’s Zhou Shuhao 周书豪 (The Piano in a Factory 钢的琴, 2010) and Hong Kong’s Xu Shaojiang 徐少江 (Lost on Journey), and strong, unshowy costume design. Overall, Blood Stained Shoes is watchable but could have been considerably better, given the assembled talent and characters, with a stronger script. The Chinese title means “Flower Embroidered Shoe(s)”.
Presented by Star Union Skykee (Beijing) Film & Media Advertisement (CN), Hefei Radio & TV Investment (CN), Shaoxing Sheng Xia Film & TV Cultural Investment (CN), Anhui Golden Bull Film & TV Investment (CN), Shenzhen Zhishang Film & TV Investment (CN). Produced by Star Union Skykee (Beijing) Film & Media Advertisement (CN), Anhui Golden Bull Film & TV Investment (CN).
Script: Wen Jun [Manfred Wong], Yang Meiyuan. Photography: Zhou Shuhao, Xu Shaojiang. Editing: Ye Wanting, Xu Hongyu [Derek Hui]. Music: Luo Jian [Lowell Lo]. Art direction: Liu Shiyun. Costume design: Zhang Ke. Styling: Zhang Shijie [Stanley Cheung]. Sound: Feng Jun, Zhang Bin, Zeng Jingxiang [Kinson Tsang]. Executive director: Qian Jianghan.
Cast: Lin Xinru [Ruby Lin] (Su Er), Hui Yinghong [Kara Hui] (Madame Zhen), Mo Xiaoqi (Xu Shi), Ye Xiqi (He Chujun), Xing Minshan (Wang Zhiyuan, councillor), Tang Wenlong (Shen Xuanbai, Xu Shi’s husband), Jing Gangshan (Cheng Nan, Xu Shi’s lover), Chen Xiaodong (Shen Xuanqing, Su Er’s husband), Han Zhi (Ding Dashan), Harashima Daichi (Shen Ling, Shen Xuanbai’s son), Xiao Yuzhen (Shen Yi, Su Er’s daughter), Huang Yiyang (Shen He, Su Er’s son), Cai Jifang (Yuan, village elder), Dong Jilai (Huang, village elder), Chen Jinhui (Zhang, village elder), Liu Wei (Cheng Nan’s wife), Cheng Jiaji (Old Jiang), Huang Ying (Old Jiang’s wife), Yu Xiaodong (Wu Zuo).
Release: China, 31 Mar 2012.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 18 May 2012.