One of the best of the spate of contempo ghost/horror pics that have caught on in Hong Kong during the past couple of years, “Inner Senses” is a smoothly directed slice of genre fare that’s far less flashy but considerably more effective than the better-known “The Eye.” Neat story about a disturbed young woman and a doubting shrink plays out like two sides of the same coin, and has some offshore remake potential. Little known outside H.K., where it was released March 2002 to very mild B.O. (just six weeks prior to “The Eye”), pic is classy material for fantasy and Asian fests, with good chances as an ancillary earner on Western specialist labels.
Film was the last by Leslie Cheung, who committed suicide in April of this year. In retrospect, with all its talk of depression and suicide, pic becomes a macabre endstop to the H.K. actor/pop idol’s career, though his performance is among his best in commercial fare. Cheung previously worked with helmer Lo Chi-leung on two other movies also produced by Derek Yee, “Viva Erotica” (1997) and “Double Tap” (2000).
Cheung plays psychiatrist Jim Law, first seen giving a lecture on the spiritual world, in which he firmly doesn’t believe. A hospital colleague, Wilson Chan (Waise Lee), asks him to take on the case of a lonely young woman, Cheung Yan (Karena Lam), who’s just rented an apartment and has been having visions of troubled souls.
Law diagnoses the frumpy, nervous Cheung as simply self-obsessed and tired from over-work, but when the visions continue he takes a more personal interest in her case. Pic also sprinkles early hints that Law, himself a loner who swallows far too many pills, is also far less composed than he seems. When Wilson and his wife (Valerie Chow) urge the two to become more than doctor and patient, Law gently pushes Cheung away.
With its moody, “Basic Instinct”-like score by Peter Kam, and well-honed lensing and editing, film spins a slow web around the viewer, punctuated with some effective shocks. When Cheung’s visions start up again, following her rejection by Law, and she attempts suicide, Law seems to solve her case by digging into her past. But then he starts hallucinating about a long-dead teenage girl (Maggie Poon).
Though the film doesn’t pretend to be anything except a creepy genre item, director Lo keeps a steady brake on things, with lessons seemingly learned from Japanese psycho-thriller maestros like Hideo Nakata. (At least one scene, late on, is almost worthy of the TV sequence in the Nipponese “The Ring.”) All thesps play it very low-key and natural, with newcomer Lam (“July Rhapsody”) showing continuing promise as the straggly-haired, dressed-down Cheung.