Even though Taiwanese cinema went through a much-needed refresh a couple of years ago, finding pure genre films from Taiwan still requires a hefty search. Wei-hao Cheng's Hong Yi Xiao Nu Hai [The Tag-Along] is a welcome exception to the rule. One of the most successful horror flicks in a long time, the film might signal a new start for Taiwanese horror cinema. Based on the quality of this film, that may not be such a bad deal for horror fans. While it's not the most imaginative of films, it's a quality production that delivers.
Taiwanese horror films are quite rare. Zhaibian and Xiong Mei are two fine examples and Zhi Yao Yi Fen Zhong enjoyed its five minutes of fame not too long ago, but taking into account the boom of Asian horror films that swept over us for the past 15 years, Taiwan has been notably abscent from the scene. Not that The Tag-Along is sure to turn all of that around, but it at least has the potential to make a difference. Hopefully more will follow in its footsteps, since it would definitely benefit the further diversification of Taiwan's cinema output.
Asian horror films tend to focus more on drama, opting to use classic horror elements as an expression of personal trauma. Personally I don't mind this setup, but it does mean that the second half of these films often lose much of their suspense and tension, instead edging closer to a dramatic conclusion. It's a setup that often hinders international exposure and keeps these films from reaching a wider audience. There's a little of that here too, but overall Yi Xiao Nu Hai remains pretty true to the spirit of its horror roots.
The film is based on a popular Taiwanse legend, involving a 'mo-sien'. A mo-sien is a mountain ghost that manifests itself as a little girl and is known to follow people around, "tagging along" with its victims until it captures their soul. We follow Wei and Yi-chun, a young couple that is burdened with the curse of a mo-sien. Even though their relationship is under strain, Yi-chun is unwilling to simply give up Wei and is determined to fight back against the mo-sien that keeps her boyfriend from her.
Taiwanese films are known to look good and The Tag-Along is no exception. With its greenish, desaturated colors and strong compositions, it looks considerably better than most other horror films. Practical make-up is impressive too, the CG on the other hand can be a little flakey. It's not even all that clear why they used CG for certain shots, but the difference is a bit too visible at times. A small blemish on an otherwise splendid-looking film.
The soundtrack is unremarkable but functional. It follows a classic horror film approach, residing in the background and keeping to itself for most of the time, only when things get a bit more tense does it demand attention. It's not a bad soundtrack and it's hard to fault it, but the fact that I needed to skip through the film again to refresh my memory means it's just not very memorable and it does little to really help the film forward.
The acting is above par. River Huang and Wei Ning Hsu put in solid performances, well above the expected level for a horror film. They probably won't be wining any prizes, then again their parts don't really allow them to really go above and beyond. Fans of classic Taiwanese cinema will be happy to hear 70s icon Yin-Shang Liu shows up in a rather large secondary part. She hold up well, even though her role is pretty one-dimensional.
The Tag-Along is a film that's bound to do well with fans of Asian horror and people with a soft spot for the Taiwanese sense of aesthetic. It isn't until quite late in the film that the mo-sien legend brings something fresh to the table. It's mostly just about a young girl ghost haunting people in rather traditional ways. The finale spices things up a little, but if the film has lost you already I'm sure those last scenes won't be able to save the film for you.
Still, it's nice to see Taiwan deliver a good horror film like this. The acting is well above par, the film looks great and the added couleur locale is sure to please seasoned horror fans. The Tag-Along is not an exceptional film, nor a film that turns the genre upside down, but it's an accomplished horror film that might please a broader audience. Here's to hoping it finds its way on the international scene and it'll be interesting to see where director Wei-hao Cheng will go from here.