Review © Larry D. Burns, 2003.

Directed by Chi-Leung Law, 2002, 100 mins. starring Leslie Cheung, Kar Yan Lam, Waise Lee, Valerie Chowo and Norman Chu.

From the creepy, hallucinogenic opening credits, you know from the get-go that this film might actually be good. Caught somewhere between a heavy melodrama and an all-out ghost story, Inner Senses (aka Yee do hung gaan, aka Yi du kong jian) asks the all-time supernatural question: Do ghosts exist? Whether or not this films answers that question depends on the viewer, and what part of the whole believing-in-ghosts side is he on. But what I do know for sure, after seeing this movie, you will wonder about the power of your own mind.

It is said that the human brain is bigger than the universe. That’s because we (humans) know more about the universe than we know about our brains. After all, we only use about 10% percent of our brain (5% if you’re George Bush ;-D), making the human brain a vast wasteland of unexplored possibilities. Human evolution is still an ongoing process, so there is no absolute knowledge as to what our brains are capable of, especially with how we perceive the world. It is this conflict that our two lead characters are faced with. What constitutes reality when the brain is seemingly not sane?


”Memory can make something happen…”

Yan Cheung (played with restrained dramatics by Karena Lam) visits her new apartment, shown to her by an overly exuberant landlord. You take one look at the apartment and know ghostly goings-on will take place. Yan takes the place, and the night she moves in, right before she even unpacks all her stuff, she starts seeing things in the hallway, hearing things in her bathroom, sees a wailing skinny body in her living room. I almost expect her to scream “Come on! At least let me get settled first before the haunting!!!” Instead, she brushes it off as just another one of her “I see dead people” experiences, although she is in no small way unnerved by the experience.

Meanwhile, a psychologist, Jim Law (played by the late Leslie Cheung) is giving a lecture on how the brain collects information, and how it affects our reality – even in our belief in ghosts. He stresses that ghosts are merely “...useless information playing tricks on our brains.” Clearly, this guy is our Scully. He receives a message and a case file from one of his colleagues about a disturbed young woman who might be a 'challenge' for him. And lo and behold – Yan and Jim meet.

After an initial session where the good doctor attempts to psychoanalyze Yan, and she in turn tries to convince him of her lack of mental instability, a clear connection is made between the two of them. She confesses to seeing ghosts, although he merely deems it a side effect of her depression brought about by divorced parents, a series of bad relationships, and self-inflicted solitude. They do however agree to meet again to try to get to the bottom of things.

Back at her apartment, her landlord invites Yan for dinner at his place. She agrees reluctantly. During dinner, he tells Yan of a harrowing story of how his wife and young son were lost in a landslide, all the while keeping an unnerving smile on his face. This makes Yan uncomfortable (naturally) so she excuses herself and goes back to her apartment. Once there, strange things start to happen – voices, footsteps, muddy body parts appearing in doorways, the works. Sure enough, a full-blown haunting from muddy mom and kid brigade occurs, coupled with a power failure, and BAM! you got yourself a horror sequence…

She calls the good doctor for assistance, he comes over, investigates, and of course, finds nothing. Jim finally concludes that she’s absolutely crackers, but decides there’s still hope. He reassures her that everything’s all right, gives her a sedative, puts her to sleep, and takes this opportunity to snoop through her stuff. Clever… Here, we are treated to the first of a series of flashbacks, that seemingly are about her. Brokenhearted at a young age, sorrow, it all fits the profile of a hallucinating manic-depressive.

As the doctor-patient relationship turns into something more, Doctor Jim tries to delve deeper into her past, trying to unlock the mystery that is her sickness. He asks about the suicide attempts, but she claims having no memory of them. The wounds were there when she woke up in the hospital. She on the other hand starts to see the doctor as more than that. Jim begins to feel her becoming too close, so he decides to break off the relationship, leading her to experience yet another haunting from the now-famous muddy mom and kid brigade, this time landing her in the hospital with slashed wrists. Jim must now find a way to make Yan face her demons before it destroys her completely.

As Yan reaches recovery, Jim doesn’t feel the need for a connection with her anymore, especially now that he has ghostly visions of his own. A disfigured teenage girl shows up in the back seat of his car, in his pool, in the car next to his. He starts to question his sanity, even performing electroshock therapy on himself. Again. He turns to science to explain his condition – stress related work, high blood pressure, insomnia. Through his ordeal, he realizes the one person who can keep him sane is Yan, so he rekindles the friendship, which leads to romance.

But in their seemingly happy relationship, the dark cloud of Jim’s past still hovers over him, causing him to sleepwalk. One night, Yan discovers him rearranging a series of documents, almost in a trance, unaware of Yan’s presence. Night after night he does the same thing, almost as if looking for something. Awoken by Yan from his trance one night, Jim realizes everything, remembers his past, and understands the danger that he and Yan are in. For now… Jim’s past has manifested itself, and is threatening his and Yan’s present existence...

Combining a solid dramatic story full of emotional conflicts and human frailties with all-out creepy imagery and fresh storytelling style, Inner Senses succeeds because it does not exploit either genre. It lies safely nestled in between the two, never goes overboard, and doesn’t feel undercooked either.

What surprised me most is how the film didn’t dictate to the viewer what was ghostly and what was simply the product of a disturbed mind. At the end of the film, you are sure of one thing – one of them was really seeing ghosts. The other could have just very well have been reaching out for compassion and love. These two characters have built an existence based on solitude for one reason or another. And with this solitude comes the price on loneliness and depression. What seems real to one person is just crazy to another, and the film leaves the viewer with finding out that option for themselves.

Performances from the two leads are excellent. Karena Lam does a fine job of portraying someone who is unraveling because of this “gift/curse” she has. And one of Hong Kong’s greatest actors, Leslie Cheung, is equally superb as the doctor who tries to keep it together, but whose anger is all locked up inside like a dark memory.

If anything, Inner Senses should be called a drama, with incidental supernatural elements. There are themes we can all learn from here. Our past helps us become who we are, but is in no way controlling us. Our fears are only there to remind us of what we’re capable of overcoming. And love, whether it be doomed or flourishing, is all we need to give us strength.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 7/10
Chills: 5/10
Violence: 7/10
Sex: 0/10
Romance: soppy/10
Do I See Dead People?: Yes, but I also snog 'em too...<uurgh!>
Another Movie In Very Much The Same Vein: The Eye, but before you scream 'Plaaaagiarism!', Inner Senses predates The Eye by about six months - go figure ;-)
Green Makeup: is this actually supposed to be scary post-1949?
Litres of Tomato Ketchup: surprisingly little - just a splat or two here and there


Inner Senses Wallpaper

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Larry Burns, 2003

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Chi-Leung Law
Leslie Cheung
Kar Yan Lam

Links - as ever, a brilliant review at Sex Gore Mutants - a great review at LoveHKFilm - The Gline gave Inner Senses their Film of the Week Award in February 2003, and accordingly here's an indepth review with lots of images - another two great reviews on the same page, with even more images! the late Leslie Cheung has his own official memorial fan site - just about everything you could possibly want to know about him is there... - ... and if you can't find it there, you'll certainly find it here - an enormous Leslie Cheung fansite, Leslie's Pillow - a profile of Kar Yan Lam, aka Karena Lam, with some images and information - Another long review, this time with a great image from the official (almost-banned!) movie poster - Akatomy's great review at Sancho Does Asia with some more pictures [French only] - Inner Senses was shown at the 2003 Adelaide Film Festival: there's a short review here, along with some biographical information about Chi-Leung Law

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