A polished, mature genre-bending horror from Ann Hui. The film doesn't go for cheap thrills, and instead focuses on the characters' obsessions and fantasies. After a decade of disappointments, Hui comes back to what made her so influential: interesting characters, a capable handle of film technique, and an involving pace.
Visible Secret marks a comeback to quality filmmaking for Hui, even if it doesn't feature her usual pungent social commentary, and is much more commercially conscious than usual.
Eason Chan is Peter, a slacker of a hairdresser who's losing his job thanks to his incompetence. One night at a club, he meets June (Shu Qi), an attractive and decidedly unusual girl. She uses him to dump her annoying boyfriend, and the two develop a weird friendship. Peter is increasingly more interested in her, but there's something strange about June. She confesses to Peter she's able to see ghosts, and from that moment on Peter's life drastically changes. He has visions of possessed people, including his father (James Wong). He has a hard time separating reality from fantasy, gets upset by her ever-changing mood and mysterious disappearances, and starts to suspect June's true nature,
Like in Yoon Jong-chan's Sorum, the plot is not really that important. What the story lacks, the director is able to compensate for with a unique visual and emotional atmosphere. The production team worked hard to give an eerie feeling to the Hong Kong that Peter and June live in. Both sets and soundtrack fuel Peter's instability, and slowly reveal details to piece together the fragmented plot. The fact that the film doesn't try to scare its audience makes the mix of comedy, romance and horror more interesting. With a lesser director, this genre-bending could have resulted in an uneven pace, but Hui has a flawless handle on what she's trying to achieve. Be it silly comedy, Peter and June's lighthearted (and unusual) romance, or the ghosts' shenanigans, the film flows smoothly. You never feel the director has any problem switching themes.
While Shu Qi is her usual reliable self, sometimes she falls into her childish side abruptly, which can prove annoying for some. But, that could be an intentional choice, made to further project the character's volatile personality. Eason Chan's role is not too difficult, and he's reasonably effective. The rest of the cast, including Sam Lee and Anthony Wong in a memorable cameo, is adequate.
You shouldn't approach this film expecting a classic Hong Kong ghost story. Visible Secret is more similar to Korean genre-bending films like Memento Mori and Sorum, where horror is just a launchpad for character studies. Its production values are excellent and never offset the main theme. They instead contribute to the atmosphere generated by the director and the interesting script. Visible Secret signals the return to form of one of the most important directors Hong Kong has ever seen. This is not only a good lead-in to the current crop of genre-bending horror/thrillers (The Eye, Inner Senses, Three, etc. etc.), but also a good indication of Hui's comeback. She would later go on to bigger and better things with the excellent July Rhapsody.