The Matrimony

China gets its first all-out ghost movie with "The Matrimony," a technically slick exercise that should keep Asian specialty labels busy. Mainland director Teng Huatao assembles a pan-Chinese cast and tech crew for a '30s Shanghai haunter that's light on shocks but otherwise purrs along nicely.

With:
With: Leon Lai, Rene Liu, Fan Bingbing, Xu Songzi, Zheng Yuzhi, Niu Ben, Koan Hui, Zhao Lei, Li Qian. (Mandarin dialogue)

After warming up with pics like “Curse of Lola” and “The Door,” China gets its first all-out ghost movie with “The Matrimony,” a technically slick exercise that should keep Asian specialty labels busy. Mainland director Teng Huatao, who debuted with the realist backstreets drama “One Hundred … ” (2001), and then helmed the 2003 “Sky of Love” (a Hong Kong remake of South Korean time-warper “Ditto”), assembles a pan-Chinese cast and tech crew for a ’30s Shanghai haunter that’s light on shocks but otherwise purrs along nicely. Pic went out in China as a Valentine’s Day attraction.

Pre-credits sequence has an unidentified femme radio host narrating the latest installment of a romantic potboiler, in which a rich guy ditches his g.f. but then writes asking her forgiveness and her hand in marriage. As the announcer speaks, the story is shown onscreen, with pretty Xu Manli (China’s Fan Bingbing, channeling “Amelie”) cycling to meet Shen Junchu (Hong Kong’s Leon Lai) on a busy Shanghai street. Just as they spy each other, she’s hit by a car and killed.

A year later, Junchu is holed up in a vast family manse with the mousy, devoted Sansan (Taiwan’s Rene Liu), whom he’s been forced to marry by his domineering mom (Zheng Yuzhi). Spurned by the asthmatic Junchu, who’s still pining for Manli, Sansan roams the spooky mansion and starts getting visions of the dead g.f.

The ghostly Manli finally proposes a deal to Sansan: If she can occasionally enter Sansan’s body, to touch and talk to Junchu, both women might benefit in their relationship with him.

But later, Sansan, with some help from the manse’s ghostbusting housekeeper, Auntie Rong (Xu Songzi), finally has to face down the evil Manli. A twist coda, based on the opening sequence, rounds off the tale.

Western viewers may notice a few similarities with “Rebecca,” with Liu in the Joan Fontaine role, Lai in Laurence Olivier’s and the older Xu not a million miles from stern housekeeper Mrs. Danvers. However, the ghost elements are thoroughly Chinese in their inspiration. And though the script only surfs the sexual implications of Manli and Sansan sharing the same body for Junchu’s delectation, the pic spins an elegant, sometimes sensuous web of tangled emotions, underscored by Lee Xinyun’s sinuous music.

Lensing by Taiwan’s Mark Lee (a veteran of Hou Hsiao-hsien and Wong Kar-wai’s movies) is succulent, with vivid reds, moldy greens and warm blues in a rich mix. Period setting and duds have a look that underlines the pic is really just an exercise in high style.

Original Chinese title means “Ghost in the Heart.”

The Matrimony

China

Production: A Huayi Brothers Pictures Co. production, in association with Nanfang Film Prods. (International sales: Huayi, Biejing.) Produced by Chen Kuo-fu. Executive producer, Wang Zhongjun. Co-executive producers, Wang Zhonglei, Du Jiayi. Directed by Teng Huatao. Screenplay, Zhang Jialu, Yang Qianling, based on an original story by Sheng Zhimin.

Crew: Camera (color), Mark Lee; editor, Angie Lam; music, Lee Xinyun; art director, Feng Ligang; costume designer, Dora Ng; sound (Dolby Digital), Yang Xin; sound designer, Sam Wong. Reviewed on DVD, London, May 12, 2007. (In Far East Film Festival, Udine; in Tribeca Film Festival.) Running time: 90 MIN.

With: With: Leon Lai, Rene Liu, Fan Bingbing, Xu Songzi, Zheng Yuzhi, Niu Ben, Koan Hui, Zhao Lei, Li Qian. (Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • Captain Marvel

    Brie Larson Takes Flight in 'Captain Marvel' First Trailer

    After warming up with pics like “Curse of Lola” and “The Door,” China gets its first all-out ghost movie with “The Matrimony,” a technically slick exercise that should keep Asian specialty labels busy. Mainland director Teng Huatao, who debuted with the realist backstreets drama “One Hundred … ” (2001), and then helmed the 2003 “Sky […]

  • The House With a Clock in

    Film Review: Jack Black in 'The House with a Clock in Its Walls'

    After warming up with pics like “Curse of Lola” and “The Door,” China gets its first all-out ghost movie with “The Matrimony,” a technically slick exercise that should keep Asian specialty labels busy. Mainland director Teng Huatao, who debuted with the realist backstreets drama “One Hundred … ” (2001), and then helmed the 2003 “Sky […]

  • Alessio Cremonini, Andrea Occhipinti, Jasmine Trinca,

    Head of Italian Distributors' Group Resigns Over Venice-Netflix Release Spat

    After warming up with pics like “Curse of Lola” and “The Door,” China gets its first all-out ghost movie with “The Matrimony,” a technically slick exercise that should keep Asian specialty labels busy. Mainland director Teng Huatao, who debuted with the realist backstreets drama “One Hundred … ” (2001), and then helmed the 2003 “Sky […]

  • San Sebastian Festival to Sign Gender

    San Sebastian Festival to Sign Gender Parity Charter

    After warming up with pics like “Curse of Lola” and “The Door,” China gets its first all-out ghost movie with “The Matrimony,” a technically slick exercise that should keep Asian specialty labels busy. Mainland director Teng Huatao, who debuted with the realist backstreets drama “One Hundred … ” (2001), and then helmed the 2003 “Sky […]

  • Albert Lee Appointed Head of Hong

    Albert Lee Appointed Head of Hong Kong Film Festival

    After warming up with pics like “Curse of Lola” and “The Door,” China gets its first all-out ghost movie with “The Matrimony,” a technically slick exercise that should keep Asian specialty labels busy. Mainland director Teng Huatao, who debuted with the realist backstreets drama “One Hundred … ” (2001), and then helmed the 2003 “Sky […]

  • Fan Bingbing'Ash Is Purest White' premiere,

    Feng Xiaogang Cut From 'Ash Is Purest White' as Fan Bingbing Scandal Spreads

    After warming up with pics like “Curse of Lola” and “The Door,” China gets its first all-out ghost movie with “The Matrimony,” a technically slick exercise that should keep Asian specialty labels busy. Mainland director Teng Huatao, who debuted with the realist backstreets drama “One Hundred … ” (2001), and then helmed the 2003 “Sky […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content