The Supernormal (Da Mi Xin)
Director – Lo Ting Kit
Edward Li (Narrator)
Sometimes going to see foreign language films is always a gamble when one can often only have the title to go by and no other idea what they are letting themself in for. Such was the case with this Hong Kong film, which sounded like a Ghostbusters (1984) ripoff but in fact proved to be a documentary about the supernatural. The results are akin to a Mondo film of the Hong Kong supernatural and one of the most bizarre pieces of filmmaking one has seen in some time.
Included in the film are :– tours of a central city Thai dog spirit temple where hookers and gang members come and pay respect using cigarettes instead of incense sticks; a visit to a Buddhist temple where the narrator attempts to claim the fact that the night-sensitive lights came on when he arrived in daytime was a miraculous sign and we witness a dubious miracle as a Buddhist master causes spirits to set fire to a pile of paper. (The narrator makes bad cracks about how useful the master would be at a barbecue where the master po-facedly counters by saying that he is sorry but he is a vegetarian). We meet a former Olympic athlete who now works as an exorcist and claims that he was spiritually aided in winning at the Games. (Here the film’s bad subtitling amusingly confuses metres with kilometers and has him winning the 3000 km race). The film discusses exorcism, which in Asia appears to be an almost everyday occurrence – on a visit to a woman exorcist, we see her spanking a boy who refuses to speak to drive a demon out – his whimpers and cries seem alarmingly real at times and indeed by the end he does start speaking. We get to see in gruesome detail a silicon breast implant operation that uses a process involving mystical saline filled bags. There is an incomprehensible tour of a hotel that is cursed by bad feng shui and has had to construct an entire unused building to protect itself on one side against a jinxed statue on the other. We go on a tour of urn gardens where the dead are laid to rest and hear how one can buy a variety of different resting cupboards for one’s ashes – the narrator disapproves of the use of bank vaults to store ashes (supposedly to improve your blood). The singularly most amazing sequence in the entire film is the attempt to enter a haunted house – the narrator asks the audience if they see the ghosts that are present and then Chinese characters are imprinted in the frame of the film to exorcise any ghosts that might happen to be watching the film and to bring the audiences together into one. The last sequence is a bizarre encounter group where various people sit around with towels wrapped around their faces and go on an inner journey down to Hell to deal with belated parents and to find spouses. The end has the narrator lecturing a group of children on happy living and then skipping off with them hand in hand into the woods.
There is no real objective analysis of the things the film attempts to discuss – the claims are all spuriously in favour of its subject, which make it all the more hilarious. It is deliriously funny, from the way the narrator disapproves of bank vaults to store one’s ashes and offers up fervent little prayers that the Chinese can get their rites of the dead sorted out – even the way the film hypes its documentary scenes up with threatening music. If nothing else, the film offers insight into the supernatural beliefs of the Chinese and their everyday acceptance of the presence of ghosts, spirits of their ancestors and possession and of the importance they place on numerology, symbolism and luck. Fascinating.