Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Feng Shui (2004)

A hardworking wife and mother of two, Joy (Kris Aquino) unwittingly becomes the owner of a bagua, a Chinese lucky charm said to bring good luck. True enough, her family experiences a windfall both in cash and in kind: her husband Inton (Jay Manalo) gets promoted while she reaches her maximum quota for the month; she wins the grand prize in a supermarket raffle; an old client leaves her five hectares of land in Batangas; so on and so forth. What she does not know is that the bagua is cursed. Its owner, referred to as Lotus Feet, was part of the Shanghai elite when the Cultural Revolution erupted in Mainland China. She was left to burn inside her mansion while clutching the ornament, leaving it with a curse: whoever sees himself in its mirror will perish in exchange for the good fortune it brings to its current owner. As people around her start to die one by one, Joy must find a way to stop the curse before it takes the lives of her husband and children.

As Filipinos, the brand of horror we are exposed to has usually been confined within the limits of cheap scares and bad CGI. Rarely do we find a good horror movie which employs a systematic way of giving us a jolt, banking not just on theatrics and special effects, but also on the strength of its premise. Feng Shui succeeds in revolutionizing the Filipino horror genre by attempting to introduce this very element. More than the violence and the gore, they also concentrate on the backstory, in effect creating a plausible cinematic universe rooted in long-standing superstitions and traditions.

The Filipino-Chinese community has always been a good source not just of good business and investment, but also of a distinct belief system coming all the way from the Mainland. What you would find amusing in this film is how the two cultures are effectively meshed to serve as a good foundation for the premise of this story. Where else could you see a household which displays a bagua, a crucifix, a smiling Buddha, as well as several other religious icons that
the Catholic faith holds dear? Such juxtaposition is a celebration of the multicultural setup of the modern Filipino family, which is one of the strong factors figuring in this movie.

What makes Feng Shui work is how it operates as part supernatural thriller and part family drama, with both aspects of the story unfolding simultaneously, the resolution of one even depending on the fate of the other at times. Joy has to deal not just with a vengeful spirit, but also with a meddlesome mother-in-law who is just as sinister. Infidelity is also thrown into the mix. In short, while we acknowledge that the supernatural could be blamed for what happens to them, it could also be argued that the characters themselves set up the stage for their eventual downfall. Grounded on everyday issues that a typical Filipino family usually goes through, it is not so difficult to relate to the characters' dilemmas.

Relating the deaths to the Chinese zodiac signs is tricky because some just appear to be so contrived that it borders on absurd. The baker down the street dies of Leptospirosis; she was born in the year of the Rat. The village security guard who was born in the year of the Snake dies of snakebite. The guy who leaves the bagua in Joy’s possession gets hit by a Philippine Rabbit bus. Care to guess what his Chinese zodiac is? While some of these circumstances are convenient, it could not be denied that the novelty derived from such oddity gives the storyline its own unique identity.

The film has a lot of scenes which would make you fall off your seats thanks in part to the effective mix of scary visuals and startling sound effects. A personal favorite, though, would be the entire sequence leading to the death of Alice (Lotlot de Leon). That particular scene where she sees Lotus Feet at the foot of the stairs dragging none other than her dead body is priceless.

In terms of acting, Kris Aquino is tolerable except in those scenes where she is supposed to be frightened but appears constipated instead. Despite her lackluster acting repertoire, the movie works because of its premise, and box office returns back then would agree. Besides, the mythology involved here is not that farfetched for a Filipino to believe in, being the highly superstitious nation that we are. As such, suspension of disbelief is easily achieved, leading to a satisfying cinematic experience.

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