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April 05, 2016

The Great Hypnotist

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Cui mian da shi
Leste Chen - 2014
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Like many, I revere Hitchcock, and there are many shots in this film that were inspired by the way Hitchcock framed his suspense films. - Leste Chen

I'm not sure how much credit goes to Leste Chen or too his art director, Lo Shun-fu, but the office of the psychiatrist, where much of The Great Hypnotist takes place, is impressive in its own right, even without the suggestion of elements gleaned from several films by Alfred Hitchcock. Part of the narrative is devoted to the concept of perception, of what is seen, how it is seen, and how it is remembered. The office floor has a pattern of angled, colored rectangles that can fool the eye into thinking one is looking at a raised pattern. There is the office wall covered with multiple brain MRIs. Patterns also appear on specially carved doors, on coffee cups. There is also the multi-armed overhead lamp that hovers over everyone, resembling a very large spider. In the office foyer is a big, dark, wooden staircase that leads up to an unknown space - the kind of staircase that made me think of Cary Grant and the glass of milk in Suspicion.

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The Great Hypnostist strikes me as a very welcomed throwback to the psychological thrillers that Hollywood use to make in Forties and Fifties, while taking advantage of current filmmaking technology. The premise is that Karen Mok plays a disturbed woman who claims to see dead people, and it's up to hypnotherapist Xu Zheng to see if he can uncover secrets and memories. Several critics who have reviewed The Great Hypnotist have done this film a disservice by being unable to get past the "I see dead people" line used to describe Mok's malady, and have labelled Chen's film as a rip-off of The Sixth Sense. Going back to Hitchcock, the real antecedent is Spellbound, minus the Dali inspired imagery. Without revealing too much for those who have not seen the older film, there are enough similarities to convince me that the basic plot was the inspiration for Chen. The younger filmmaker brings enough shuffling of space and time, dreams and nightmares resulting in several unexpected twists along the way.

Especially when the most visible mainstream Chinese films usually are elaborate martial arts or fantasy films, it's nice when a more modest production finds its way stateside. Leste Chan is one of the few Taiwanese filmmakers to have worked in mainland China, with a mainland star, Xu Zheng, and Hong Kong's Karen Mok, making this a pan-Chinese production. Due to mainland Chinese restrictions regarding films depicting supernatural elements, a scene near the end explains enough to wash away any shred of ambiguity. There is still enough here between a performance that serves as a nice showcase for Karen Mok, and a set design that provides a purely visual supplementary narrative.

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Posted by peter at April 5, 2016 10:46 AM