The Matrimony (2010)
Director: Teng Huatao
Writers: Zhang Jialu and Yang Qianling
Starring: Leon Lai, Bingbing Fan and Rene Liu

The Plot: Junchu (Leon Lai) is a film composer reeling from the recent death of his former lover. After the initial grief phase has waned, his mother sets him up in a new marriage that is ultimately devoid of love because of his remaining grief. This new wife however won’t let Junchu simply mope around forever and she desperately wishes for the two to consummate their relationship. After some spooky moments in their new home, she is eventually visited by the ghost of Junchu’s former lover who promises to help the new wife as long as she can overtake her physical form in order to have a final fling with Junchu. When Junchu finally starts to warm up to his new wife though, his former lover’s ghost starts to feel rather jealous. Will she overtake the young lover’s body forever or will the young couple figure out a way to banish this unfriendly apparition?

The Review
The face of Asian horror has changed a lot over this past decade. From the wild and psychotic twists and turns provided by the world of Japanese underground cinema to the general spooky-story aesthetics of Hong Kong, the marketplace has been prosperous and fueled by very different concepts. The Matrimony is a definite contribution to that same spooky-story genre, but plays out as a twist on the very traditional vision of the Chinese horror story. A mainland picture directed by Teng Huatao (Sky of Love), he sets his feature in 1930’s China which seems to be a great excuse for the cast to dress up in some absolutely outstanding period-era clothing. The time and era that the movie is set within takes center stage throughout the majority of the picture and is easily the “hook” that separates this title from many of the other ghost stories crowding the marketplace. Looking absolutely beautiful, The Matrimony may not be a title that grabs up any serious awards, but it at least plays out better than many of the genre films that attempt to do similar things.

There are few strictly Chinese horror films that have broken into the world market, due to distribution issues and the Chinese censors, but The Matrimony is certainly a decent foot forward for the nation. The 30’s are brought to life throughout the film as director Huatao manages to really evoke the feeling of this nation’s past. Through some interesting storytelling, which plays around with a non-linear narrative, he also produces a story that likely appeased the government officials as well as those in the audience looking for something that wasn’t simply a generic “haunted house” picture. While I do shy away from calling the film “generic”, it probably isn’t that far from the label. There are many conventional horror film aesthetics that you will spot throughout the movie. From the screeching “horror” music to the overly wrought moments of tension, there’s some liberal borrowing from horror movie conventions. However, if things like culture, technical bravado or general cinematic beauty count for anything at all in this world, you would be hard pressed to casually dismiss The Matrimony. The use of jazz music, the radio as a plot device and the general “look” of the film all create a very unique vision. The sequences that take place on the streets, in particular, are incredibly impressive and actually manage to give the movie a large size and scope that lasts even through the scenes where we are couped up inside of this rather large house.

Unfortunately, despite the film producing a rather epic feel with its set pieces, it does manage to reduce some of that awe by its use of gloriously poor computer generated FX work. The opening sequence in particular will no doubt live in infamy for viewers, as it seems to take a page directly out of the Meet Joe Black playbook and shows a CG character being banged around by a car in the midst of traffic… but it is in no way, at any point, ever close to looking the tiniest bit realistic. Thankfully this pungent taste is washed away from our cinematic palette as the movie progresses and tends to show off its better attributes for the next several scenes. However, when the ghost starts popping up, there are still yet a few more moments of poor CGI. Regardless of this, the filmmakers manage to give the film a consistent touch of class. The wardrobes are always stylish and director Huatao does craft some rather glorious visual pieces here in this ode to classic genre fare.

While I don’t think The Matrimony is going to terrify audiences, it provides a number of great scares throughout. This is interesting, because the pace for the movie is generally on-point throughout and never really settles itself into one particular mold. The director manages to craft some decent tension in the midst of a great deal of plot, but does so while balancing a movie that doesn’t dare try to attempt anything remotely “epic”. Clocking it at a brisk ninety minutes, The Matrimony is a genre film through-and-through. While there is a good bit of character work throughout, this is still probably where the film suffers the most in its race to the finish. While Leon Lai does a fair job in taking a rather unlikable character (Junchu just rubbed this reviewer the wrong way) and turning him around throughout the majority of the picture, he never really comes across as being penetrable. He’s a rock here, but this could have been a choice on behalf of the actor or the filmmakers. After all, a man struggling with grief goes through many stages. The two female leads however are great and play that perfect balance of naivete, jealousy and seething anger. Whatever the scene calls for, they deliver.

The Conclusion
This probably isn’t a title that is going to blow your mind, but it is a decent bit of entertainment and well worth checking out. Released via Tartan and their Asian Extreme line, pick it up and support a quality company!

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