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Visible Secret II

Taking only the general theme and one minor character from its predecessor, "Visible Secret II" is a deftly assembled, fairly low-key suspenser with a fine trio of leading perfs. Pic is an above-average genre exercise that should be of interest to specialized fests and ancillary outlets.

With:
With: Eason Chan, Jo Kuk, Cherrie Ying, David Lee, Maria Chen, Kwok Chun-on, Hung Chiu-fung, Sheila Chin, Helena Law, Sylvia Lai, May Tse, Chang Tzu-yu, Michelle Huang, Chen Wan-lei, Jupiter Wong, Joe Cheung. (Cantonese dialogue.)

Taking only the general theme and one minor character from its predecessor, “Visible Secret II” is a deftly assembled, fairly low-key suspenser with a fine trio of leading perfs. With the original’s director, Ann Hui, serving only as exec producer, and its scripter, ghost movie specialist Abe Kwong, now taking on helming chores, result is an above-average genre exercise that should be of interest to specialized fests and ancillary outlets. Local B.O. was nothing special this summer, summoning up only HK$5.4 million ($700,000), just over half the original’s 2001 haul.

Film continues the theme of the thin dividing line between the human and spirit worlds — also recently explored in the Pang Brothers’ slick thriller “The Eye” and Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai’s largely incomprehensible comedy “My Left Eye Sees Ghosts.” Kwong’s movie lacks the surface sheen of “The Eye” but is no less hokey than and at least as good on a genre level as the Pangs’ pic.

Encoring male lead Eason Chan plays a totally different character, Jack Kwok. Kwok marries the sleek and very together Mak Yun-ching (Jo Kuk), and they move into a smart apartment. Kwok is hit by a car and almost killed, suffering a broken leg. While recovering at home, he begins to think the place is haunted.

Aided by Kuk’s ambiguously beautiful looks and d.p. Mark Lee’s resonantly colored lensing, the apartment scenes are highly atmospheric, as Kwok even starts to suspect that Yun-ching may be a ghost. Meanwhile, he bumps into his young god-sister, September (Cherrie Ying), who’s been away in London and recently climbed on a plane to return. Fresh and outgoing, and with maybe a small crush on him, too, September helps Kwok solve the mystery of whether or not Yun-ching is a spook.

Lacking the first film’s playful tone, this much more dramatic piece is basically a very simple plot decorated with diversions (a peeping tom; a ghostly young woman in ’20s attire; a subplot about Yun-ching’s former b.f.) and capped by a neat twist that’s actually signaled by a brief audio clue early on.

Just as Japanese psychothriller “Ring 0” explained How Sadako Fell Down the Well, so “VS II” kind of answers Who the Hell Was the Ghostly Woman in the Subway. For local viewers, there are two in-jokes: This role was not only played by Kuk in the first film but also entirely cut out of the Hong Kong theatrical release version at the request of the territory’s subway authority.

Spending most of the movie hobbling around on a crutch, Chan is fine as the reined-in Kwok, playing it straight rather than broad. One of Hong Kong’s most under-used actresses, Kuk is just right as the mysterious Yun-ching, with Ying ditto as the ingenuous god-sister, looking as if she’s winging her part all through the movie.

Visible Secret II

Hong Kong

Production: A Media Asia Distribution release of a Media Asia Films presentation of a Class Limited production. (International sales: Media Asia, H.K.) Produced by John Chong. Executive producer, Ann Hui. Directed by Abe Kwong. Screenplay, Lau Ho-leung, Kwong, Wong Chi-fai.

Crew: Camera (color), Mark Lee; editor, Cheung Ka-fai; music, Tommy Wai; art director, Poon Yick-sum; sound designer (Dolby Digital), Tu Duu-chih; assistant director, Jupiter Wong. Reviewed on videodisc, London, Sept. 21, 2002. Running time: 98 min.

With: With: Eason Chan, Jo Kuk, Cherrie Ying, David Lee, Maria Chen, Kwok Chun-on, Hung Chiu-fung, Sheila Chin, Helena Law, Sylvia Lai, May Tse, Chang Tzu-yu, Michelle Huang, Chen Wan-lei, Jupiter Wong, Joe Cheung. (Cantonese dialogue.)

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