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Review: The Mysterious Family (2017)

The Mysterious Family

神秘家族

China, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 90 mins.

Director: Yu Huan 喻焕 [Bak Yu-hwan 박유환 | 朴裕焕].

Rating: 6/10.

An intriguing, psycho-horror brainteaser that holds interest largely thanks to its Greater China name cast.

STORY

Fujian province, southern China, the present day. At a bus stop in the rain at night, high-school student Miaomiao (Lin Yichen) is pursued by a young man (Lan Zhenglong) and attacked. A year later, in December, she visits her family in the countryside to take part in the forthcoming Dream Youth Spring Marathon. Silent and uncommunicative, she is on medication, and trains on her own, running in the countryside. The police warn her family that an escaped murderer is on the loose. On 24 Dec her younger brother Shushu (Chen Xiao) asks her to return home by 18:00 so they can all have a family meal together before their mother (Hui Yinghong) goes to hospital for a risky operation. Miaomiao gets caught up in a street parade, has a panic attack, and gets a call to hurry home. When she arrives late, the house is dark and empty, and there is blood on the floor. She finds her family but also sees a crazed murderer. She suddenly wakes up at 17:00, and discovers she fell asleep on the athletics track after training. Setting off, she again gets a phone call and at home witnesses more violence. She appears to be trapped in a recurring nightmare.

REVIEW

A psycho-horror brainteaser centred on a high-school student who seems doomed to relive a tragedy over and over again, The Mysterious Family 神秘家族 is an intriguing genre exercise that’s sometimes too clever for its own good but keeps shifting the goalposts enough to pass an hour and a half, especially with a name cast from Greater China that’s headed by the Mainland’s Jiang Wu 姜武 and Hong Kong’s Hui Yinghong 惠英红 [Kara Hui] among the older players and Taiwan actress-singer Lin Yichen 林依晨, Taiwan actor Lan Zhenglong 蓝正龙 and Mainlander Chen Xiao 陈晓 among the younger. Though it only mildly pushes the limited envelope of Mainland horror movies, it managed to scrape RMB15 million – more than many of the genre – thanks to its star line-up and supposedly being inspired by one of China’s most shocking murder cases.

Funded by and set in China, but shot in Taiwan, it’s actually written and directed by a South Korean – Bak Yu-hwan 박유환 | 朴裕焕, under the Chinese nom de plume Yu Huan 喻焕. Shot during the turn of 2014-15, it was his second feature after black comedy Memento 记忆碎片 (2016, aka Memento Mori), also a Mainland production and also belatedly released. Like most Korean directors, Bak again used compatriots for some key crew, here d.p. Choi Chan-min 최찬민 | 崔赞民 and editor Heo Seon-mi 허선미 | 许善美, the former contributing some discreet, landscape-based atmosphere without making it look like a K-horror and the latter turning in a tight product. For a first feature, Bak, then in his mid-40s, directs confidently.

As the traumatised daughter who’s a champion high-school runner, 34-year-old Lin downplays her usual kooky-ish liveliness (Lovesick 恋爱恐慌症, 2011; Sweet Alibis 甜蜜杀机, 2014; Go Lala Go II 杜拉拉II追婚记, 2015) and pretty convincingly acts half her age, though she’s largely at the mercy of a script that moves her around at its own convenience, as past and present, dreams and reality, blur in her character’s mind. Jiang and Hui, as her parents, are in fairly straight, unexaggerated roles for a change; as the heroine’s younger brother, 25-year-old Chen (The Palace 宫  锁沉香, 2013) makes no special impression, nor Lan (Night Market Hero 鸡排英雄, 2011) as the mystery man.

The real-life event that reportedly inspired the film was the revenge massacre in Sep 2014 of a family of four in Anxi county, Fujian province, southern China, by an unemployed young man who had been jailed for sexually assaulting the wife two years earlier. The famous crime – which has almost nothing in common with the film – is classified as one of China’s “three great family-massacre cases”.

CREDITS

Presented by Fujian Hengye Pictures (CN), Huace Film & TV (CN), Perfect Sky Pictures (CN), Shimao Media (CN).

Script: Yu Huan. Photography: Choi Chan-min. Editing: Heo Seon-mi. Art direction: Wu Ming, Wang Yuan. Action: Yang Zhilong.

Cast: Lin Yichen (Miaomiao), Hui Yinghong [Kara Hui] (her mother), Jiang Wu (her father), Chen Xiao (Shushu, her younger brother), Lan Zhenglong (mystery man), Lou Xuexian (policeman), Zhang Youyun (granny), Ma Guohua (lawyer), Chen Wanhao (taxi driver), Guo Yaoren (policeman), Liu Zhiling, Du Zhichen (athletes), Zhang Zhehao (fugitive), Wang Daonan (doctor).

Release: China, 21 Apr 2017.