Having taken in a number of Asian horror films in recent weeks, I have been pleasantly surprised by most. Even those films that were not wholly successful still managed to engage me with original ideas and/or ambitious narratives. I looked forward to "The Heirloom," then, an old fashioned ghost story from Taiwan. After a vivid and macabre opening in which a dozen members of one family hang themselves together (it's an unsettling visual), I prepared myself for a fun ride. However, after the initial setup, Leste Chen's "The Heirloom" settles into a very familiar pattern. It becomes apparent that we are going to be engaged in a thriller in which a house is possessed by evil spirits and those spirits will affect those who come into contact with them--sort of like an Asian "Amityville Horror."
The film, in its opening scenes, establishes that the wealthy Yang family came to prosperity by worshipping the dark arts--specifically calling on the powers of child-ghosts. The Yangs, therefore, are the family in the aforementioned mass suicide by hanging. Dealing with the dark arts isn't always as appealing as it may at first seem! Years later, James (Jason Yang) inherits the old mansion without knowing much of his family's history. He promptly moves in with his fiance Yo (Terri Kwan). Of course, it doesn't take long before strange occurrences begin--noises, visions, etc. Most alarmingly, the house seems to be driving their friends crazy! It is a well-worn question in films of this type, "Why, oh why, don't they just leave?" Yo does ask this question, a little late in the game for my taste, but is dismissed by James--which should be a bit alarming due to all that has transpired to this point.
There is such a familiarity to everything that happens to our young protagonists, nothing that will come as a shock or surprise to those who follow the horror genre. This lack of originality certainly caused me to lose some interest in the film. But I did like Yang and Kwan enough to stick with them--and their adventures proved to be watchable, yet forgettable. The ending, however, had a certain lyrical quality that I found appealing in light of the unpleasant circumstances. If you like this sort of thing, there is much to be admired here--the house, in particular, is a pretty spooky place. But I never truly overcame the "been there, seen this" attitude which settled over me very early in the picture. I don't mind having seen "The Heirloom" once, but I can't really imagine revisiting it again. KGHarris, 03/07.