There are a lot of things that don’t make sense in The Lingering, and that includes the basic premise of the film. What sounds like a generic haunted house narrative is complicated by the fact that ghosts and zombies are censored from art by the Chinese government. This explains the careful language describing the supernatural element as a “strange and dangerous presence” rather than a ghost or haunting, but this film still might now have been made if it weren’t for a bit of ambiguity and a shovelful of propaganda mixed in with the melodrama that inevitably replaces the horror.
The film begins with a prologue sequence in which a young boy named Dawa waits for his father’s return home from work one Chinese New Year with his mother. After an accident occurs, Dawa’s father never returns and is blamed for the death of several co-workers. That night Dawa and his mother are terrorized by a ‘presence’ (never explicitly referred to as a ghost), but it eventually leaves them alone. Thirty years later, Dawa (Louis Cheung) is a successful chef on the verge of turning his business into a chain of restaurants, living with his beautiful girlfriend Lily (Tong Yao) in the city. When he receives a phone call informing him that his mother’s body has been found in a river, Dawa must return home for the first time in far too long.
In a lot of ways, The Lingering is The Sixth Sense of Chinese horror movies, in that there is a rational and un-frightening explanation for most of the terror. Unfortunately, this explanation is so incoherently conveyed that it took more analysis than is desirable just to figure out what had happened. Amidst this convoluted explanation for the supernatural events are some sincerely frightening scenes, mostly due to the confusion and chaos surrounding them. For a country that has banned ghosts, they make a pretty decent ‘presence’ film.
Convoluted as the horror is, as transparent as the propaganda elements are, and as convenient as the resolution is, The Lingering is competently made despite its shortcomings. It is well shot and the actors give emotional performances, especially when the film slips away from the horror territory. Even the effects for the non-ghost ghosts are solid, though rarely used to the degree Western audiences might expect.
The Blu-ray release of The Lingering is somewhat unnecessary, especially given the complete lack of extras. The visuals are enhanced, the effects especially, though I don’t know if that is reason enough to warrant the upgrade.
Entertainment Value: 4/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 4.5/10
Historical Significance: 3/10
Special Features: 0/10