Inner Senses Review
Please be advised that the final paragraph of this review will give way to a key spoiler, primarily due its subject matter and star Leslie Cheung. Many of you might already know the plot, but I've even kept my synopsis short, unlike the distributor and film makers. I believe that this film should be watched with no prior knowledge about how it plays out.
Law Chi-Leung had written several scripts which were Leslie Cheung vehicles, two of which he personally directed: his 2000 feature debut Double Tap and the 2002 Inner Senses. The latter, co-written by producer Derek Yee, came at a time when Hong Kong was riding high on the success of notable horror films such as Hideo Nakata’s Ringu and Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. The Pang brother’s The Eye in 2001 soon created quite an impact and gained international recognition, and Ann Hui’s and Abe Kwong’s Visible Secret pictures, made between 2001-2002 also did well to emulate these regarded modern classics, but retain their own strong identities. Indeed these early post millennium examples did well to carry on from the Japanese horror boom of the late nineties, which eventually took a bit of a nose dive thanks to endless imitators, and to this day it hasn’t really stopped at trying to churn out various cloned products. 2002’s Inner Senses might well be considered yet another shameless riff, yet the notion couldn’t be further from the truth. Law Chi-Leung’s second film proves to be a painful study on mental illness - far from the all out horror experience than we might have been led to expect.
The story is about a young woman named Yan Cheung (Karena Lam) who has recently moved into a new apartment block run by a kind, but lonely man called Mr. Chu (Norman Chu), and has been suffering from visions of ghosts. She is recommended to a psychiatrist by Dr. Chan (Waise Lee), who is married to Yan’s cousin (Valerie Chow). Yan thus ends up visiting Dr. Jim Law (Leslie Cheung), a skeptic when it comes to Chinese superstition, who uses scientific reasoning as the basis of his work in brain research. He believes that Yan’s visions are brought on by repressed memories and he quickly puts her on observation to try and ease her mind. As things progress both begin to develop feelings toward one another, but something soon sparks a tragic turn of events and Yan and Jim find themselves trapped in a world of silence as they try to come to terms with a past long forgotten.
Inner Senses has several great things going for it. Firstly its evenly paced run time, which clocks in at a nice 100 minutes; secondly its ability to actually focus on its characters, rather than cheapening the experience with a series of shock scare tactics; and thirdly its poignant performances. Enjoying the film to its maximum potential means ultimately trying to ignore its advertising campaign and the synopsis, at least Tartan’s, which clearly gives away a major twist that kicks in half way through. Law Chi-Leung’s film is one that can easily be misunderstood; the point is not to simply scare its audience with mere ghostly apparitions, but to explore the human mind in dealing with subject matter relating to depression. Of course as a metaphor, but one which must service a horror film for expectant audiences, Chi-Leung does insert some momentary horror leanings, backed by startling piano strikes and images of dead people. Perhaps more interestingly is that he does inject some form of social commentary pertaining to the idea of Chinese superstition. This in turn creates a situation that challenges the notion of spiritual plausibility next to that of scientific explanation, but by large these come second in a story dealing with very real human angst.
Permeating the story are several individuals who each in their own way struggle to deal with significant events that changed their lives for the worse. It shows people who can’t move on in their lives, who cling so dearly to the loved ones they lost or can’t understand how they’ve ended up in the situation they’re in. And Law Chi-Leung is all too aware of this, much to his credit. As a result he never manipulates his audience with familiar tricks of the trade; he focuses solely on individuals and creates a befitting atmosphere based around their own insecurities and loneliness. Inner Senses would be nothing without its well drawn characters and the chemistry between its stars Karena Lam and Leslie Cheung is captivating, not to mention Norman Chu’s wonderful turn as landlord Chu. Their relationship is beautifully explored, with its natural sense of flow, thanks to their commonly shared links and understanding toward one another; an area in which the director is all too willing to convey first and foremost. Ultimately though Chi-Leung’s tale is one that issues the message that we all must let go at some point in our lives, and the spirits which appear on occasion re-enforce this notion. Granted there are occasional moments whereby he might draw out a particular sequence, particularly toward the end of the feature, but his sentiments are in the right place. But it’s an unforseen twist mid-point that turns Inner Senses onto its head and makes it all the more of a tragic experience.
More than anything else Inner Senses has the distinction of being Leslie Cheung’s final film, before he sadly took his own life in 2003 at the age of 46. It’s very sad that the story of depression, which eventually turns on the character of Jim Law, disturbingly mirrored Leslie Cheung’s own life at the time. Although he committed suicide in 2003 it came out that sometime before Inner Senses he attempted the same thing. And so it becomes difficult to watch Cheung in what is clearly a painful thing for him to go through. He must have been all too aware of these strong ties and one wonders if his appearance here was indeed a cry for help. Law mentions that you can’t psychoanalyse one ’s self, and maybe this film is where Leslie Cheung hoped to find answers. His character slowly begins to alienate his loved ones from him; he collapses into denial and struggles to deal with past memories, only occasionally being allowed a moment of happiness until his ultimate awakening. Therefore it’s perhaps no surprise to learn that Cheung puts in a fine performance for his swan song. He balances his emotions perfectly, and it’s during the second part of the film that we can truly feel the pain of his character and the frustration in knowing that he’s making other people’s lives difficult: those who love him and wish to help. But in the end it’s something that we could never hope to fully understand.
Inner Senses appears to be a straight PAL transfer: I’ve not been able to detect any problems to suggest otherwise, so we’re off to a good start. The film is presented in its native 1.85:1 aspect ratio and given anamorphic treatment, but it appears that the master used by Tartan isn’t quite up to scratch. The film has its share of dark lit scenes and unfortunately black levels come across quite drab at times, while contrast remains a little high, which doesn’t do Venus Keung’s photography the full justice it deserves. Detail isn’t too shabby, although the picture is noticeably soft throughout and edge enhancement, as usual, does nothing to rectify this whatsoever. That said, flesh tones are pleasing and the rest of the palette has a natural sense of colour and lighting.
There are three Cantonese sound options on offer: Dolby Digital 2.0, 5.1 Surround and 5.1 DTS. Inner Senses doesn’t heavily rely its rear channels; certainly it delivers the occasional ambience and utilises Peter Kam’s lovely score very well, but on the whole it’s a talkative piece. Dialogue, then, is given plenty of attention and remains clear throughout, while the surrounds do their job in accompanying the appearances of ghosts effectively with forceful piano cues. The difference between the 5.1 and DTS tracks is negligible, with the latter making minor use of the subwoofer.
The main extra on this disc is a Making Of featurette which runs for 11 minutes. Leslie Cheung, Karena Lam and Law Chi-Leung sit down and talk about the film, but rather strangely Cheung and Lam seem to be in character the entire time. They don’t so much offer candid thoughts, but act their way through the entire thing. It’s actually very distracting: Lam sits there ready to burst into tears as she gets a little drama heavy, while Cheung stares straight-faced at the camera. It’s simply bloomin’ weird. When Derek Yee turns up we’re ready to breathe a sigh of relief as he talks a little about people and the psychological process they go through, while Chi-Leung talks a bit about the characters. Don’t watch this before the film.
The only other bonus is the theatrical trailer. Both features are converted from NTSC-PAL.
Inner Senses is a great piece of work, with so many good qualities, but admittedly its poignancy is all the more powerful because of its tragic star, Leslie Cheung, who continues to be greatly missed by the Hong Kong entertainment industry. A fitting, though sad conclusion to his illustrious career, and while it’s been four years since his passing we can only hope that he finally found the peace he was searcing for.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 02:47:03