Heirloom, The (US - DVD R1)
Gabe Powers shouts, "Don't move into the haunted house, you morons!"...
A family commits a mass suicide, seemingly with no explanation. Twenty years later, the sole heir and his fiancé move into the menacing manor where the suicide was committed. Obviously they don't think it's all that creepy to live in the house where your relatives hung themselves. Soon after the couple enters the damned domicile mysterious and deadly events begin to occur, and the family secret comes to surface.
If you're interested in a ghost story with an air of mystery behind the events, you might want to stay away from The Heirloom, because the opening title cards pretty much give away the reasons for the film's supernatural occurrences. On the other hand, if you're interested in a ghost story that crawls under your skin and disturbs you to your very sole...you also might want to look elsewhere. The Heirloom isn't that film either. However, if you're looking for an average ghost story that you won't find the fortitude to hate, and just might cure your insomnia, The Heirloom should be next on your Netflix rental queue.
The scariest thing about the film is the box art, which I admit is pretty cool, and probably will sell a couple of copies. I'll also admit that director of photography, one Kwan Pun-Leung, has done an amazing job here, specifically because of the amazing dark and light play. I'll even admit that the design of the haunted habitat is effective, as is the rest of the production. Somehow, among all this artistic integrity, here is a total lack of scariness.
Perhaps this lapse in shivers is due to the fact that there is little or nothing in the film's script that makes it special or even kind of innovative. If you've seen three better Asian ghost stories, you've seen this film. Perhaps the missing chills can be blamed on the fact that if it were not for flashbacks and slow motion, The Heirloom would only be about thirty minutes long. Seriously, how many times do we need to flash back to the same images? I've seen episodes of Dragonball Z with less constant reciprocation.
My guess as to the reason behind the absence of horror is that no one here was particularly interested in the project, least of all the scriptwriter. Do not misunderstand me, this is not a 'bad' movie, it's just a painfully mediocre one. There is little here to make anyone beyond the most avid fan of the Asian horror genre excited. This might make a decent thirty minute episode of some modern horror-based TV series, but there isn't nearly enough here to justify a feature length running time or asking price.
In a case like this, where a film's worth is about 90% in its cinematography, it's important that the DVD looks good. This Tartan release is more or less a success. There are some fabulous blacks; deep and rich, as they should be. Darkness is very important to the look of the film. On the other hand, there's a lot of digital damage here, especially in lighter colours. Edge enhancement is prevalent, as is some pretty ugly blocking. The blocking and pixilation (which can be seen most clearly on my final screen cap) come and go, occasionally during more stylized sections, like the (never-ending) flashbacks. For the most part this is a more than decent transfer though, especially considering the nature of the film.
The duelling DTS and Dolby Digital tracks are very similar, though the DTS tracks has a little more spatial differentiation, and is a bit louder. Both tracks are solid, but the music often sounds detached from the rest of the soundtrack. It's likely that it was mastered separately. This creates an unfortunate artificiality to the sometimes abrasively over-the-top, but generally effective score. The rest of the noise is the usual dark and spooky house type stuff, and for its part, it works pretty well. The DTS did have one rather loud 'pop' towards the end of the film that I triple checked to make sure it wasn't a connection problem. Before and after the pop, there is a slight problem with lip-sync.
The special features are kicked off with a decent, but noticeably promotionally based making of featurette. It runs about twenty-five minutes, and may have been more entertaining to me had I enjoyed the film more than I did. Nice inclusion, but not very informative.
Next up are a few deleted scenes, presented in their raw, unmasked state. These are so raw that some are really more like out-takes or flubs, than the usual deleted scenes. The best is a series of about thirty or forty failed attempts to capture a ‘psychic’ bird doing his thing on camera. The bird simply has to pull a card from a deck, any card, and it gets food. Better said than done. The bird refuses to cooperate, and in some takes flies away. Sadly, this is more entertaining than the film.
There is a group effort commentary track in Chinese with English subtitles. The director is strictly technical and very dry. He's very good at telling us what he did to achieve a shot. Thankfully the actors are a little more animated. I skipped around a few times out of intolerance of silence, but for the most part the track was continuous.
Features are brought to a close with the usual trailer, and addition trailers for other Tartan Asia Extreme releases.
I leave this one up to the reader. Do you really, really like Asian ghost stories? If you do I suppose that one more won't hurt. But if you're like me, you've become jaded to the whole scene, and The Heirloom simply doesn't do enough to separate itself from the pack, the giant, giant pack. This is another good presentation from Tartan though, and I hope they get their hands on more intriguing movies in the future.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 25th April 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Mandarin, DTS 5.1 Mandarin
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Making of Featurette, Commentary with Crew, Deleted Scenes, Trailer, Tartan Trailer Reel
Easter Egg: No
Director: Leste Chen
Cast: Terri Kwan Jason Chang Chang Yu-chen Tender Huang
Length: 96 minutes
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