YEE DO HUNG GAAN (INNER SENSES)
This film from Hong Kong begins and ends like the Hitchcock classic Vertigo. At the beginning of Yee Do Hang Gan the titles are interspersed with shots of a solitary eye and the audience hears music that sounds as if it is being played by a Hollywood orchestra inspired by the Hitchcock accomplice Bernard Hermann. At the end of the film the hero finds himself on the edge of a precipice. Like the folk in Vertigo, the psychiatrist and his patient need to banish neurotic preoccupations if they are to establish loving relationships. Yee Do Hung Gaan, like Hitchcock used to do, exposes human weakness but insists upon the necessity of romance.
The plot also has a similarity to the classic American novel by Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is The Night. A talented psychiatrist cures a young neurotic woman and falls in love with his patient. The young woman becomes strong, and, because of his dependency, he becomes weak. The novel by Fitzgerald is gloomy, and in it relationships balance power and submission in bleak symmetry. Yee Do Hung Gaan is a horror film but it is more romantic than Tender Is The Night. Love offers the wounded not just therapy but redemption.
The acting in the film is variable but the two leads are fine. Karena Lam received an award for her performance as the psychiatric patient Cheung Yan. The psychiatrist Jim Law is played by Leslie Cheung. His career began as a teenage pop music heartthrob. He had hit records as well as parts in movies. Twelve months after appearing in Yee Do Hung Gaan Leslie Cheung leaped from the 28th floor of a Hong Kong hotel. There is no evidence to connect the death of Cheung to his experience on Yee Do Hung Gaan although the final scene would have acquainted him with the view from the roof of a hotel. The actor and singer had suffered from clinical depression for several years. His role in Yee Do Hung Gaan would not have helped. Cheung is convincing as the neurotic and obsessive Jim Law. When the parents of the previous girlfriend of the psychiatrist attack him in a restaurant and insist he should be dead as well, the self-hatred and bewilderment on his face are not faked. There are several moments when we realise that Cheung digs into his memories and whatever it is that haunts him. The method of his suicide and the end of the film is a coincidence but we are entitled to be disturbed by its existence.
The ghosts in Yee Do Hung Gaan are solid and real when they appear but they cease to exist when the neurosis that causes them is cured. The great American writer John Cheever wrote nothing that could be described as a horror tale but his novels and stories are packed with people who are haunted by others. Cheever also gives more substance to the characters we imagine than most writers. In some of his stories the imagined are as substantial as what are supposed to be actual people. Real life or not the people we meet are like those we imagine, all are defined by what our brains want to invent. None of us out there are real to other people in the way we are to ourselves. Cheever has a marvellous phrase, ‘the collision of contingencies’. We connect but we would not if we did not imagine characters and stories.
In Vertigo the imagination has to be conquered but only because of circumstances and a contrived deceit organised by a ruthless businessman. When the imagination is conquered and contingencies can no longer collide, James Stewart is trapped on a ledge. Without his imagination there is nowhere for him to go and Vertigo ends. Maybe that is what happened to Leslie Cheung. After instant and total success he had everything but dreams. He was, though, trapped in the dreams of a multitude, obliged to wander as a ghost amongst strangers. Like Elvis Presley, Cheung destroyed himself in his forties. In a poll of superstars in Asia, Leslie Cheung finished behind The Beatles and Michael Jackson but ahead of Elvis. The suicide note Cheung left for others to read is impressive. One sentence regrets being cursed with depression but in the others he thanks the people who supported him.
The suggestion that we are all ghosts who define the dreams and thoughts of others rather than real people is an idea that few are keen to accept. On more than one occasion in Yee Do Hung Gaan the main characters are confused with ghosts. ‘Are you two ghosts or what?’ says a neighbour of Cheung Yan, the psychiatric patient. Cheung Yan translates screenplays. Her work makes her an invisible presence in a movie, important to our understanding but also a cinematic ghost who will amend the language and create something different from what was supposed to exist. To prevent the idea of people as ghosts being dismissed as fanciful the psychiatrist Jim Law reminds us that we understand the Universe better than we do our brains. If we do not know how our minds operate, we cannot insist we are physical entities rather than creatures shaped by the imagination of others. Cursed with carrying infinite mystery between our shoulders we have a poor understanding of why the past happened the way it did and no idea what might happen next. The ‘collision of contingencies’ depends on the misguided ambition of everyone and has no respect for our status. The best ghost stories have ghosts who haunt for a reason. The film has shots of empty buildings and spaces, places where we think we live. Our presence, though, is temporary. We are peripheral rather than solid. But we have something that makes ghosts and others curious. A ghost in Yee Do Hung Gaan leaves messages that say ‘I Will Follow You’. The truth is that we all follow someone. The ones we follow can include the misunderstood notion of ourselves, those that we think we dominate and even those we have abandoned. Psychiatry exists and psychiatrists earn money because we become confused about what we are following. As John Cheever understood, inexplicable guilt and unfathomable dreams are two sides of the same coin.
Yee Do Hung Gaan has a low budget, simple sets and grainy photography. This is good. It provides a familiar unsettling atmosphere and undercuts the romance that is essential to the climax. Swimming pools and water appear in several scenes. The water represents a sub-conscious that is beyond our understanding but that is as important to us as reality. When the psychiatrist sees a ghost in a swimming pool, we know he is in serious trouble. He will need the help of someone else if he is to survive. And the psychiatrist Jim Law does have problems. His desperation becomes obvious when he performs ECT on himself. For colleagues the self-inflicted ECT is the last straw but the cousin of the psychiatrist had suspicions before. The cousin worried, he says, because Law worked hard and did not gamble. It is interesting that the word relax is not used by the cousin. Forget serenity and peace of mind the cousin appears to be saying. Do the same as the rest of us, play games that will have capricious financial outcomes. For many, though, in our monetised society both work and life consist of those games.
Ghosts appear because of our inability to manage and understand time. They belong to a past that we think we can transcend through routine and diversion. When Jim Law and Cheung Yan see ghosts, both have extreme sleeping patterns. They take too many sleeping pills and sometimes sleep for whole days. Other nights they suffer from insomnia. Inevitably dreams appear when they should not. Ghosts are drawn to the people who mismanage time.
The romantic choice that burdens the psychiatrist is how to commit to someone else after adoring someone who has been lost. Guilt and fear have transformed the previous girlfriend of the psychiatrist into a monster that will nag him for the rest of his life. The problems of the patient are not as complex. She only needs the love of a father and mother. She will, though, have to battle the memory of the previously adored girlfriend of the psychiatrist to claim the man that she needs. Some relationships survive because of what is hidden between a couple but not all. Lovers can become entangled in the guilt, dreams and ambition of the other. The end titles are accompanied by a pop song whose title is Carry On. Chaos and confusion exist inside our misunderstood brains, and the secret universe of the brain has many mysterious characters that will haunt in different ways and to a different extent. Faced with that, carry on is about all we can do. Because of the limited choice, it is no surprise that we value commitment and like to think that life might just amount to something more than a collision of contingencies.
Howard Jackson has had five books published by Red Rattle Books. His latest book Choke Bay is now available here. If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the other books of Howard Jackson and other great titles, click here.