The Purple House
China, 2011, colour, 2.35:1, 93 mins.
Director: Pan Hengsheng 潘恒生 [Poon Hang-sang].
Disappointing psychodrama from a noted Hong Kong d.p., in his directorial debut.
China, the present day. Zhou Tong (Tong Liya), who has returned from living overseas, is in love with young designer Li Yi (Wang Dongcheng). Li Yi proposes to her one day and she accepts, saying she’ll marry him in three months’ time. Zhou Tong then gets a call from her father’s lawyer, Hu (Tong Chenjie), who asks her to come home to Suzhou where she has inherited her father’s house and needs to sign some paperwork. Zhou Tong has been stressed out and having nightmares since the deaths of first her mother and then her father – who were divorced – and asks her doctor for some medicine for the trip. He prescribes her a relaxant but emphasises she should not take any sleeping pills at the same time. Along with Li Yi, Zhou Tong returns to Suzhou for the first time in 10 years. Living in the house are her stepmother Ye Yuting (Xu Yulan), her step-brother Ye An (Zhong Kai) and her father’s former private nurse Shen Lu (He Jingjing), all of whom feel it’s unfair that Zhou Tong has inherited the house. Zhou Tong continues to suffer from nightmares but is always comforted by the presence of Li Yi. She also bumps into her old school friend Shi Yu (Xiao Yuyu) but then starts to suspect the two are having an affair behind her back.
As an example of the Mainland’s burgeoning horror industry, The Purple House 紫宅 is so-so at best and light on real scares. But much more could reasonably have been expected on the visual side for the directorial debut of veteran d.p. Pan Hengsheng 潘恒生 [Poon Hang-sang], even on an HD-shot production and what looks like a modest budget. Pan doesn’t have a history of working on horror films in his native Hong Kong but has shown considerable versatility during almost 30 years lighting everything from comedies (especially those by Zhou Xingchi 周星驰 [Stephen Chow]) to action fantasies, as well as working on some of the territory’s most stylish-looking movies (Center Stage 阮玲玉, 1992; Executioners 现代豪侠传, 1993; Fearless 霍元甲, 2006; Ip Man 2 叶问2, 2010).
For most of the time, House looks okay but not at all distinguished, with no special atmosphere evoked by the title structure and only occasionally resonant use of colour. (Red and pink are actually much more dominant than purple.) Just prior to the climax, Pan does let loose with some interesting visual effects to underline the heroine’s disorientation, but they’re brief moments in a movie that tries for atmosphere (rather than visceral shocks) but lacks the visual pallette to create any more than short sequences.
The script, co-written by Hong Kong’s Mai Yaoquan 麦耀权 (The Legend of Zu 蜀山传, 2001), is a routine young-woman-in-psychological-peril story, with a Big Twist followed by a lengthy explanation of the fantasies at the end. As the stressed-out rich kid who returns home to inherit her father’s house and thinks everyone is ganging up against her, Mainland TV actress Tong Liya 佟丽娅 is okay. But she gets weak support from Wang Dongcheng 汪东城, from Taiwan boyband Fahrenheit 飞轮海, who in his big-screen debut as her devoted fiance mistakes mumblecore acting and a fixed grin as masculine charm. Apart from Xiao Yuyu 肖雨雨 as the heroine’s schoolfriend and newcomer He Jingjing 何晶晶 as a waspish ex-nurse, supporting roles, like the dialogue, are uninteresting.
Presented by Beijing Waray Arts International Culture Media (CN), Shanghai Dawan Culture Communication (CN). Produced by Beijing Waray Arts International Culture Media (CN).
Script: Mai Yaoquan, He Jin. Original story: Liu Xingtong. Photography: Pan Hengsheng [Poon Hang-sang]. Editing: Zhang Weili. Music: Luo Junlin. Art direction: Hou Yongcai. Costume design: Huang Linqing. Sound: Ruan Weijiang, Martin Chappell. Action: Zhang Jintao. Choreography: Candy.
Cast: Wang Dongcheng (Li Yi), Tong Liya (Zhou Tong), He Jingjing (Shen Lu, ex-nurse), Tang Wenlong (Lan Ran), Zhong Kai (Ye An, Zhou Tong’s step-brother), Xiao Yuyu (Shi Yu, Zhou Tong’s friend), Xie Junhao (Shen Yang), Tong Chenjie (Hu, lawyer), Xu Yulan (Ye Yuting, Zhou Tong’s stepmother), Song Degang (Zhou Weiqi), Xu Aixue (shop owner), Li Shuo (young Li Yi), Wang Ouran (young Shi Yu).
Release: China, 23 Sep 2011.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 2 Oct 2011.)