Psychologist Jing Gao (Angelica Lee) believes deep sea diving can be used to treat those suffering mental health problems. Her friend Xiao Kei (Isabella Leong) introduces Jing to her brother Dave Chen (Guo Xiao-Dong) and the pair fall deeply in love. Dave plans to propose marriage after taking Jing on a dive to explore an ancient ruin submerged for ten-thousand years, but two weeks later his headless corpse is laid out in a funeral parlour and she has no memory of what happened. While Xiao Kei returns to the ocean hoping to retrieve the missing camcorder that could hold the answer, Jing is reacquainted with her former patient Simon (Chang Chen), who may be schizophrenic or else genuinely able to see ghosts and claims Dave delivered a warning about a dangerous intruder from the other side. He somehow transfers his gift to the traumatized Jing who is subsequently assailed by terrifying spirits of the recently deceased. Meanwhile, Xiao Kei returns home with her brother’s severed head but begins behaving strangely, having brought something else back from the deep.
Just as Joey Wong was once typecast as a lovelorn lady ghost, Angelica Lee has become synonymous with heroines who see dead people. Which on the one hand is a shame because she is a gifted actress, but on the other lends these increasingly derivative films a touch of class. In fact, Missing was originally announced as The Eye 3 and for the bulk of its screen time it seems as if visionary Hong Kong filmmaker Tsui Hark is plodding down the same road, albeit with a nautical theme. Ditching his usual hyperkinetic style for a more languid pace, Hark’s considerable visual gifts yield some hypnotic aquatic imagery. Like James Cameron and Luc Besson before him, he seems drawn to the ocean as an alien landscape at once both entrancing and foreboding.
Hark pulls off a handful of creepy scenes making masterful use of nerve-jangling sound effects and shock imagery, but brazenly restages the famous elevator scare from The Eye (2002). The initial plot thread with the heroine coerced into helping a restless spirit make peace with the earthly realm carries that taint of over-familiarity and a procession of hideous floating, rotting and sometimes exploding ghosts do feel like second hand variations on that iconic earlier film. Then just when are about to lament a once great innovator turning derivative, Hark springs a reality-bending, mid-film twist that flips the preceding hour and twenty minutes on its head, in terms of both plot and characters’ roles within the story. Lee is ably supported by the versatile Isabella Leong, who essentially essays three variations on the same character.
Mixing traditional supernatural beliefs with a psychological character study, Hark spins a tangled, often confusing web that while laudable doesn’t quite sustain his ambitions. No-nonsense horror fans may be aghast that the accent is on romance over true terror, but Hark skilfully teases with a conventional ghost story before delivering something wholly benign. The climactic revelation why Jing can’t see the tape that reveals the real reason behind Guo’s death is rather moving as is the heart-rending conclusion, even though the film drags a little too long.
Hong Kong director, producer, writer and actor and one of the most important figures in modern Hong Kong cinema. Hark majored in film in the US, before returning to his homeland to work in television. Made his directing debut in 1979 with the horror thriller The Butterfly Murders, while 1983's Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain was a spectacular ghost fantasy quite unlike anything in HK cinema at the time. Other key films of this period include Shanghai Blues and the brilliant Peking Opera Blues.