Time to die
I love being pleasantly surprised by movies, and I admit that this one did a wonderful job. It was kind of like ordering a cheese pizza, and finding out that you got some bread sticks extra for free - you've got what you want, and something that you like as a bonus. In this particular case, I got what I thought was going to be a ghost story, and got a bit of a compelling depth made to hit people "in the feels" so to speak. Yes, the audio is in Chinese (we'll get that right out of the way now), but as long as you can bear to read a little, you'll probably want to hear what I have to say about this one.
This movie focuses on a group of soldiers-in-training at a certain military camp. The plot can't be gotten into without spoiling too much, so we'll have to deal with going over the basics here instead - and on a simple level, its pretty straight forward anyways. The camp isn't ordinary and has hand me down legends of ghosts and haunts long before the current cadets got there to tell them, but for a few of the cadets it's a lot worse then just legends. Tan (Tedd Chan) has been seeing a ghost of a woman, and nobody believes him - instead chalking him up to be a sissy and bullying him. His friend Jeremy (Henley Hii) won't believe him either, but does his best to try and stick up for his friend.
On one fateful march however, the platoon is forced to face the facts. Against the platoon leader's desires to postpone the march due to bad omens, the higher-up demands the march and misfortune befalls the group. A death in the ranks raises questions, and it's not long until the entire barracks believes the legends of the island - everyone except the highest in command that is. As things get stranger and stranger, Jeremy tries to figure out the truth behind the events plaguing him and his fellow cadets.
I can almost guarantee that although some of the twists and turns of the supernatural aspect of the plot might be foreseeable, it's the human aspects that will catch the user off guard. The entire thing seems rather authentic, bringing with it not just the conflicting beliefs between the supernatural and more scientific-minded individuals but also the moral dilemmas such as bullying. It effectively creates quite a few touching moments throughout the film, and was a lot more than I thought I would get when I jumped in under the description of ghost stories.
The audio here is delivered well - at least I believe it is. Being that most of the film is in Chinese, I can't really tell from a language standpoint how things are being delivered, by actor-wise (and on the English lines that are strew throughout) it definitely gives the impression that they carry emotion and at times sincerity. Sound effects lace the creepier moments, ranging from whispers to very, very effective creaks. Also not to be left behind is the musical audio itself, which bleeds creeping scores that although faint at most times do a wonderful job adding to the atmosphere with a relaxing discordant feel to instill itself in the back of your mind. All of this adds up to make for a very tense watching, and although the sound itself won't (shouldn't) cause you to need a new pair of pants, it certainly helps you keep on the edge of your seat.
I will note here, although for the most part the costumes are general fair military fatigues and the sort, the ghosts all have a bit of a grisly look about them. The first one we see, in fact, essentially has no face (violently, no face). We also get a soldier ghost with black eyes, and a few other ghosts via dream or story that are creepy in nature but nothing incredibly overdone. Some of this is done through costumes (in the case of the "disfigured child of a psychic"), some through props (such as dead skeleton, or the fore-mentioned "faceless" girl), and some through simple practical effects (at one point, no ghost is seen, only it's left over watery footprints). There are admittedly some grisly sights in this movie (the main reason it is rated R is for violent imagery, and there are near zero on screen deaths), yet of all of them only one has me convinced that it might not be a practical effect - and if it's that convincingly done, it might as well be practical in my books.
By the end, I was extremely satisfied by watching this movie. Having just recently come off of watching The Possession, it was a nice change of pace to get another foreign straight-horror flick under the belt. I'm sure that some folks already realize this, but horror seems to be done differently in different countries - something that probably has more to do with the culture making it than the average person might think. It's nice to see these little cultural ties - such small details as the wards given to all the cadets before the march to help protect them (as a bit of a precaution against the bad omen) causes the movie to take a different spin than one where spirituality or beliefs might be different, and it influences the characters likewise. In some modern American movies, for instance, it might very well have been left at "I have a bad feeling about this" and nothing be done until the final stretch of the movie, when people start calling in priests and the likes because they just don't know what else to do.
As much as I'd like to say I'm still not a fan of horror movies, it's changing over the years - in part to good flicks like this one. I realize that yes, some movies are just classified as horror for cheap thrills and jump-scares, but there also exists movies out there like this one that genuinely try and tell a tale, one that's mixed with culture and more human elements than just the supernatural focus of the flick. When you watch a horror flick, you expect to get those feelings of thrills and chills, to jump in your seat or hide behind the braver person sitting next to you - you don't expect to come out of the movie with any more feeling than lingering creepiness and relief that it's over. If there is one part of this film that strikes me as memorable, it's the fact that those feelings still exist, but when the credits finally start to roll you also have more feelings than that - a bit of sadness or plausible regret for the characters in this fictional tale you just saw, and more than anything that would be why I recommend this movie to anyone.