Second Coming 3D (Chung Sang 3D/Chong Sheng 3D): Filmart Review

Hong Kong Filmart
 The maverick director's first leap into 3-D territory flounders with a weak, incoherent screenplay.  

With a film about a teenage girl who sees violent ghosts, Hong Kong filmmaker Herman Yau returns to the schlocky-horror genre which cult status in the 1990s.

The English title of Herman Yau's latest film might allude to its paranormal twist, but the handle could also be perceived as signalling for the return of cinematographer-director (and newly confirmed doctorate recipient) to the visceral shocker-horror tropes which propelled him to maverick status in Hong Kong cinema in the 1990s. With nether regions treated to unseemly fates - from some chili-induced sensation to outright castration - and a character mutating into a blood-sucker one moment and a gory zombie the next, The Second Coming does hark back to Yau's cult flicks such as The Untold Story or Ebola Syndrome.

If only the film, Yau's first 3-D attempt, is as indomitable to surprise and provoke - imagine, say, all that bloodbath conveyed through stunning stereoscopy. Unfortunately, the mind-pulverizing factor here lies  a convoluted plot which never really adds up, an incoherent structure basically leaving the spine-tingling potential of the whole premise stillborn. With co-director Ng Tin-chi's screenplay flaunting gaping plot holes and illogic behavior - the stand-out being one in which a character races home and asks her dog about the whereabouts of her daughter - The Second Coming basically flops about without actually arriving on sound ground.

The disjointed vibe which defines The Second Coming is best illustrated by the discrepancy between its mission statement - which has circulated among buyers widely since its market debut at last year's Filmart - and what actually unspools on screen. The film's production notes boasts of the film trying to channel the fears and anxiety of a migrant family - and especially the women - caving under the pressure of their new environment; it's a sentiment which certainly chimes with that of Yau's recent-year socially-conscious fare (from historical epics like The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake, to modern-day sex-worker drama Whispers and Moans or struggling-athlete story Love Lifting).

Not that the finished film makes much of this, however, with the troubles of economic hardship is only glimpsed at during the film's opening sequence and the poverty basically a jump-off point for the supernatural shenanigans to follow. Unfolding in monochrome in a seemingly crumbling cottage, Jen (Maggie Siu) dismays as her husband Ming (Kenny Wong) hears of her pregnancy, and takes it upon herself to rid of the baby; nearing death from over-bleeding, Jen is taken to hospital but the ambulance carrying her crashes, leaving her, Ming and their son Sunny lying lifeless in the smoldering debris.

At this point the twentysomething Sunny (Don Li) wakes up with a jolt: it was all a dream, and as he calls his parents - from the US, where he is studying medicine - the family is revealed to have somehow left their struggling past behind.  The couple is seen living a picture-perfect life in a neat, two-storey villa with all mod cons - the reason for the upturn in their future, which could have been developed into some kind of karma-related theme, is never really properly explained - their cheery veneer boosted by the vigorous bloom of their younger daughter Lucy (Joey Leong) and the news of Sunny's return home for his holidays.

Just as the homestead is too dollhouse-like to be a domain of spiritual comfort, the relationships are soon revealed to be strained: Ming's attitude towards Lucy ranges from indifferent to hostile, and he eyes the intimacy between the siblings with suspicion and even contempt. This hint of incestuous emotion is further complicated when Lucy digs up a blood-filled flask in the back garden, brings it to her room, opens it and inadvertently unfurls a spirit - a relic from an episode in her mother's past which the viewer has already glanced at the beginning of the film.

From here onwards, horror-flick clichés abound. Lucy sees ghosts, begins to lust for blood and lapses into possessed trances; meanwhile, Jen rushes around in anguish and desperation, roping in a shaman (Susan Shaw) to combat this second coming of the aborted baby which - surprise, surprise - was the result of rape. It's Ming's murderous retaliation against the culprit that brings about the all-showing genitalia-chopping scene - something which might prove problematic with censors in more socially conservative markets like, say, Singapore. (The city-state's official Media Development Authority is credited for its participation in the project; the Hong Kong Film Development Fund, which was listed as a co-presenter in past key-art, was no longer present mentioned by name.)

With a legacy of kickstarting Hong Kong's longest-running horror-film franchise (the seven-installment Troublesome Night released from 1997 to 1999), Yau has certainly salvaged The Second Coming with his all-round expertise in crafting effective horror-genre fare. But there's just so much that he and his editor Azrael Chung could do with an incoherent and sprawling narrative with such a glut of dangling loose ends; what's perhaps more worrying, however, is how the story lacks sufficient moments which really warrants the use of 3-D photography.

Strangely, the scary creatures rarely jumps out to jolt; they menace the characters by just being there, or there are spirits whizzing their way horizontally across the screen. This presents a good sum-up of The Second Coming: rather than making a leap forward to push the envelope, the film shuffles sideways, undecided about whether to shock or to sentimentalize.

Venue: Hong Kong Filmart
Production Companies: The Second Coming Limited, in a presentation by Imagine Nations and Scout Pictures
Director: Herman Yau, Ng Tin-chi
Cast: Joey Leong, Maggie Siu, Kenny Wong, Don Li
Producers: Ng Tin-chi, Flora Goh
Executive Producers: Anita Hatta, Ng Tin-chi, Leow Siak Fah, Lee Lieh, George Andrew Philips, Kevin Lau
Screenwriter: Ng Tin-chi
Director of Photography: Jose Chan
Editor: Azrael Chung
Production Designer: Tony Yu
Music: Mak Chun-hung
3D Cinematography Supervisor: Kevin Lau
World Sales: All Rights Entertainment
In Cantonese or Mandarin versions
88 minutes