Ngok Toi

Also known as
Ngok Toi
2010 / 88m - Hong Kong
Directed by
Dennis Law
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Womb Ghosts poster

There are many ways to achieve greatness in film. Novel premises or interesting spins on old ones, new tech or old tech used in innovative ways. Crossing the current boundaries of decency is another good one. As long as you have a selling point, your film will get the attention it deserves. But sometimes it suffices to just take what's already there and do it well. Nothing fancy, nothing special, just plain old solid. And that is exactly what Womb Ghost is.

screen cap of Womb Ghost

My first acquaintance with Dennis Law was Bad Blood, a somewhat cheap and cheesy crime flick showing plenty of promise but never able to cash in on it. For some reason it made me believe Womb Ghost wouldn't be much different, cataloging it as a film that would sit well with the oeuvre of Herman Yau, glorying Hong Kong trash cinema. So imagine my surprise when Womb Ghost turned out to be a surprisingly well-made Asian suspense flick.

The genre has been bleeding to death for some time now and overall that's a good thing. Like all hypes the bubble has to burst some time and when it does it creates room for people with a real interest in working with the genre. Law does so with great conviction and delivers a film that stands proud among its peers. It can be best described as a cross between Ringu and Dumplings, taking the best of both worlds. People wanting something fresh and exciting can drop all their expectations right now, fans craving for another solid genre film rejoice!

Womb Ghosts's storyline is typical genre fare. Take adultery, a jealous lover and a miscarriage, put it in a blender and finish off with fetuses and a long-haired ghost. You can rest assured that the ending will do all the explaining for you so all you need to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. The story pretty much suffices for what the film sets out to do, just don't expect anything smashing. There isn't even a real twist at the end, just an explanation of what it was all about.

screen cap of Womb Ghost

Visually there is plenty to like here. Law uses strong, vibrant reds in contrast with grey and bleak-looking filters to create a visual tension that almost literally blows of the screen. The editing is tight, camera work precise and controlled. The shadow effect applied to the edges of the screen can be a bit much but apart from that it's a beautifully shot film drawing lots of atmosphere from its visuals. Very important for a horror film shunning any form of realism.

The soundtrack is decent enough but never ventures outside regular horror territory. It's pretty functional, adding a tense layer to the film, though it mostly goes by unnoticed. Which is, considering the nature of this film, probably not even a bad thing. It works, beyond that it can be neglected. Acting is on a same level. Always nice to see Suet Lam showing up in a film, the rest of the cast is decent enough but none of them is going to win any prices with their performances here.

screen cap of Womb Ghost

If Womb Ghost succeeds at anything, it's bringing some punch back to the scares. Can't say I was actually digging a hole in my couch but as far as Asian suspense goes the ghost bits are creepy and effective and the gore is sufficient. Nothing compared to the bloody mess of Thai horror films but still quite revolting at times. It's hard to pinpoint where exactly Law exceeds the competition and no doubt it's in the smallest of details, but his film somehow revived my faith in the genre.

I'm pretty sure others will simply see this as another boring Asian ghost flick and it's difficult to contradict them. Even though the film is visually attractive, boasts a solid soundtrack and some decent acting, it's really not all that different from its peers. Depending on the context and how you pick up on specific details you will either love this film or be bored to death by it. It's a tough call to make up front, so the only real way to find out is just watch it I guess.

Even though I've had my fill of Asian ghosts, Womb Ghost manages to do so many things right that I was actually able to enjoy the thrills of the genre once again. I can only complement Law for that. Don't go in expecting the next best thing since Ringu or you'll surely be disappointed. Just expect a very solid genre entry, showcasing a thorough understanding of the genre mechanics and what makes a film like this tick.