Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ronny Yu's Bless This House (1988)

Western viewers, such as myself, recognize Ronny Yu from his most recent Western works, like Bride of Chucky (1998), Formula 51 (2001), and Freddy v. Jason (2003). If you're a little more super-geeky, such as myself, then you noticed Ronny Yu made one of the greatest films of Hong Kong's last golden era (before the hand over in 1997): The Bride With White Hair (1993), starring two of the period's greatest stars, Brigitte Lin and Leslie Cheung. All of the mentioned films share Yu's unique visual style. Yu is an artist with a command of camera and special effects techniques, who also is extremely experimental in his use of camera motion, colors and lights, and frame composition. His ambitions, visually, were met by larger-budget films, and each film becomes exciting to watch not only for its narrative but its unique way of being told. In addition, Yu's use of film's audio techniques exceed most of his contemporaries. However, a more in-depth discussion of Yu's later films and later techniques are for another day, while I take a look at an early HK horror/comedy film of his entitled Bless This House (1988).
Mr. Chang stays up for three days finishing his architectural designs for work. His wife receives a new pool as a gift for their baby girl, Yin Yin, and she wants to plunk it down right in the middle of the bedroom of their small apartment. Meanwhile, Mr. Chang's teenage daughter, Jane, has a new geeky boyfriend named Biggie. Biggie's a big suck-up to Jane's parents, but he'd rather be...anyhoo, Mr. Chang's designs are a big hit at the office. A promotion and new house awaits the Chang family and even Biggie's excited about it. The Changs arrive and notice the house is a little odd, a little dusty, and a little weird. A one-eyed crazy man hangs around outside and tells everyone in the family to leave. Biggie starts breaking everything around the house. Jane begins fixing, and while working on the wallpaper, she uncovers a bizarre child-like mural hidden underneath (like Dario Argento's Deep Red (1975)). After Biggie's molested on the couch, it's time to call in the exorcist.
Bless This House is all over the place, both its plot and its visual style. Watching the exorcist getting his ass whipped (literally and figuratively) by a vacuum cleaner is worth the price of admission alone. Bless This House's combination of slapstick humor and scares is evocative of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead (1981), Stuart Gordon's Reanimator (1985), Peter Jackson's Bad Taste (1987), and Jim Munro's Street Trash (1987). There's barely a lick of gore, however, in Bless This House, but it's not shy on the cheesy make-up effects and mayhem. The jokes are of the supernatural and atmospheric variety: spooky dark nights, ghostly mirrors, objects moving, and the scariest and most humorous, demonic possession. The final fifteen minutes are standout in the scare department. The plot of Bless This House is a mixed bag, but Yu's visuals are something else. The most notable is Yu's use of the wide-angle lens combined with sweeping camera movement. The camera moves closely into characters' faces and with the wide-angle lens the characters' expressions become polarized and bigger-than-life. Raimi used this technique in Evil Dead and Jackson used it well in the The Frighteners (1994). Alternatively, Yu uses a wide-angle lens combined with a still shot and has his characters fall into the camera. Just by keeping the camera still and moving the actors, Yu creates a different, yet still disorienting, effect. Like Robert Rodriguez in El Mariachi (1992), Yu will shoot sequences with three to four camera angles, then edit them together, instead of one long camera shot. This technique hides a lower-budget, but it also makes innocuous and mundane actions seem interesting. Quick cuts are also employed when the camera is sped up, so the characters are looking as if they are flying across the room. This technique also hides the lower budget of the film, but it also adds to its kinetic nature. Like Tsui Hark in The Butterfly Murders (1979), Yu is not content with traditional close-ups and medium shots: faces and characters are framed arbitrarily and normally, characters walk into the still frame from the right or left, rise from the bottom into the frame, or fall from the top. To top it off, Bless This House also has wire work and animation and some seriously cheesy make-up effects.
All of the filmmakers mentioned in this entry went on to become successful directors and all have in common their exhaustive use of creative visual tricks. Bless This House is certainly dated and weak in a lot of spots, but it also shows an extremely talented director near the beginning of his career. Recent low-budget filmmakers could take lessons from Bless this House, and viewers looking for excitement in the CGI age can discover this small treasure.


Mr.LargePackage said...

Crazy one-eyed old men warning people of impending doom that people completely ignore to their own detriment are large and in charge. Where was the kid who did the research and knew about the history of the house?

Hans A. said...

That kid was in the U.S., appearing in multiple recent horror films, doing the thing he does best.

Emily said...

An evil vacuum cleaner? Once again Hans, you have totally reshuffled my queue.

Hans A. said...

Yeah, evil vacuum cleaners are the spice of life. I live to see more of them in cinema. Thanks for reading and commenting, Emily.

Emily said...

I'm going to have to do a roundup of killer appliances. The Mangler comes to mind, and Maximum Overdrive is the Citizen Kane of the sub genre, but I like to think there are more hidden gems.

Is this on Netflix? I can't seem to find it!