Just got back in from my final screening of Metrograph’s “Shaw Sisters” retrospective: Face to Face, a Chinese/Japanese coproduction that turns the traditional structure of the ghost story on its head, presenting the narrative from the vengeful spirit’s point-of-view. The protagonist is a wealthy businessman that rises from the grave as a revenant in order to reunite with his beloved wife, only to discover that she is anything but faithful, and that his death was anything but a tragic skiing accident; ever since their wedding night, she’s been cheating on him with his best friend, who murdered him in a fit of jealous rage. Thus begins our hero’s slow-burn revenge, as he turns the illicit lovers’ greed, selfishness, and ambition against them.
While the film features plenty of interesting ideas (the screenplay is based on a novel by Edogawa Ranpo, who never encountered a genre that he couldn’t put a fresh spin on), the execution leaves quite a bit to be desired, boasting sub-VHS quality production values and a mind-numbingly glacial pace. Still, director Casey Chan makes the most of her limited budget, crafting some truly awe-inspiring visuals that beautifully juxtapose the cold, desolate hostility of the mountainous setting with the oppressively symmetrical rigidity of her central character’s opulent home. The genuinely compelling core theme—that we should strive to forgive those that have wronged us, rather than pursuing retribution (the camera often lingers on Christian iconography, almost to the point of fetishization)—also helps to compensate for the otherwise lackluster script.
All in all, Face to Face isn’t a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination… but it isn’t a particularly good one, either. It’s the very definition of a mixed bag; you’ll have to decide for yourself whether digging through the muck and grime is worth the few gems you’ll find.