ContactSales: China Film, Beijing (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: China, 16 Jul 2012.
Presented by China Film (CN), Beijing Yoshow Culture Development Communication (CN), in association with Airmedia Film & TV, Tianjin Runerry, Loyal Star Culture Media (Beijing), Legend Film, Beijing Gosh Film, Xin Sheng Li Culture Communication. Produced by China Film (CN), Beijing Yoshow Culture Development Communication (CN), Beijing AHXA Investment (CN). Executive producers: Han Sanping, Liu Xufeng. Producer: Pei Lin.
Script: Han Jong-min, Han Jinglong. Photography: Yun Myeong-shik. Editing: Ham Seong-won, Son Yeon-ji. Music: Jeong Yong-jin. Art direction: Zhang Yu. Costumes: Lu Xiaoming. Sound: Wang Yanwei, Wang Gang. Action: Xue Jian. Visual effects: Choi Gwon-ung. Executive directors: Piao Zhe, Zhou Dayong.
Cast: Park Han-byeol (Song Qian/Cherry), Xin Zhilei (Nana), Zhang Haoran (You Feng/Frank), Yang Fan (Hongrui/Ray), Sienna Li (Yufei/Fay), Zhang Tingting (Xiao Ai/Annie), Gao Xinyu (Yuhan/Yuki), Sun Shaolong (Yang Zheng/John), Guo Jingfei (university professor), Geng Le (policeman), Li Yongbo (sports trainer), Liu Weidong (Yuhan's father), Yang Zhang (villager), Jin Hongwen (You Feng's father-in-law), Qian Quanyi (girl on date), Hu Xi (young Song Qian), Ding Xiaomei (young Nana), Zheng Jiaming (daoist priest).
Bunshinsaba II 筆仙Ⅱ
2013, colour, 2.35:1, 94 mins
Directed by An Byung-ki (안병기 | 安兵基)
By Derek Elley
Mon, 26 August 2013, 09:30 AM (HKT)
Better written instalment in the horror franchise is solid, basic fare. Asian and genre events, plus some ancillary.
Beijing, the present day. After two years in the US, Nana (Xin Zhilei) returns and looks up old friend Song Qian (Park Han-byeol), now taking a postgraduate course in psychology. Nana asks her about others from their group at university: ambitious You Feng (Zhang Haoran) now works in a technology company and is due to marry the daughter of the chairman, Yu-fei (Sienna Li) is now an up-and-coming actress, and Yang Zheng (Sun Shaolong) is now a journalist after wanting to become a film director. Nana especially wants to know about Hongrui (Yang Fan), whom she always fancied, and learns his father went bankrupt and he himself is now lame from an accident and works on a building site. Nana, who was rumoured to have had mental treatment in the US, tells Song Qian that another member of the group, Xiao Ai (Zhang Tingting), who committed suicide at college, is haunting her. (Her belief in ghosts goes back to her childhood in the countryside, when a school friend, Yuhan [Gao Xinyu], gave her a weird doll.) When Nana visits her old friends, they all react angrily to her mentioning Xiao Ai. Nana remembers how, back in 2010, it was she who befriended Xiao Ai, a Chinese literature student, and brought her into the group. To her annoyance, Hongrui had fallen for Xiao Ai, and when misfortunes started to happen Nana had blamed Xiao Ai as an evil influence. To settle the problem, the friends had played the ouija board-like game of bĭxiān (筆仙), which revealed the name of Yuhan. After Nana had exposed Xiao Ai as the grown-up Yuhan, Song Qian had walked out, appalled; that evening, Xiao Ai had thrown herself off a college building. Back in the present day, members of the group now start getting killed by a ghostly presence.
The first South Korean director to relocate his career to China, horror specialist AN Byung-ki 안병기 | 安兵基 (Nightmare 가위 (2000), Phone 폰 (2002), APT 아파트 (2006)) recovers some of his original mojo with Bunshinsaba II 筆仙Ⅱ, a back-to-basics psychothriller that's a big improvement on last year's slick but rather scare-free Bunshinsaba 筆仙 (2012). Just as that movie was completely unrelated to An's earlier South Korean horror, Bunshinsaba: Ouija Board 분신사바 (2004), so this latest one has no connection with its predecessor, apart from the franchise title (an invented word, like "abracadabra") and a general theme of haunting by a vengeful spirit.
The Chinese title cleverly uses the similar sounding word 筆仙 (bĭxiān, roughly "pen fairy"), the name for an ouija board-like game using a writing implement on paper. Unlike in the preceding film, about a blocked writer haunted in a country retreat, this at least makes an appearance in Bunshinsaba II — in a scene that later proves central as the plot reveals its secrets. Though set in Beijing, the movie draws strongly on the Japanese/South Korean horror genre of school friendships that go badly wrong, here a group of three girls and three boys still haunted by something nasty that happened at college back in 2010.
An has again imported a big chunk of his key crew from South Korea — including editor HAM Seong-won 함성원 | 咸盛元 and composer JEONG Yong-jin 정용진 | 丁庸鎭, though this time changing his d.p. to YUN Myeong-shik 윤명식 | 尹明植 — and the film still has a clean, polished South Korean look very different from that of Mainland horrors, if not quite to the extent of the previous movie. Heading the cast this time is also a Korean actress, Gianna Jun lookalike PARK Han-byeol 박한별 | 朴寒星, 28, who's had plenty of experience in screamers back home (Wishing Stairs 여우계단 (2003), Yoga 요가학원 (2009), Two Moons 두 개의 달 (2012)). She melds pretty well with the Mainland cast in a cutely innocent role, though she's much less spirited here than in the glossy chick-flick My Black Mini Dress 마이 블랙 미니드레스 (2011) (aka Little Black Dress).
The main improvement is in the script, by new writers, which constructs a mobile plot that at least keeps the viewer guessing (and makes some kind of sense at the end) even if it doesn't provide any major shocks or anything out of the ordinary. Turning back on itself for a long flashback to college days (and beyond that, to the childhoods of some characters), it does have a sense of coming together in the final stages, as well as tacking on a couple of codas that work in a generic way.
Ensemble playing by the young cast is okay, but as often in Asian horrors the women score better than the men, especially here where the latter are less known. XIN Zhilei 辛芷蕾 (the lead in horror Haunting Love 詭愛 (2012)) is effective in the early stages as the emotionally damaged returnee from the US who kickstarts the story; but she doesn't have much to do later, apart from look increasingly hysterical. Though she's only in the sizeable flashbacks, small-screen actress ZHANG Tingting 章婷婷 (who made her name in The Kitchen 後廚, 2012) is also effective, cast against type, as the lugubrious outsider who's brought into the group and triggers all the unpleasantness. As a footnote, two of the cast of the previous movie pop up in cameos, child actress GAO Xinyu 高欣宇 (the ghostly girl in Bunshinsaba) as a childhood friend and GUO Jingfei 郭京飛 as a professor.
For what is basically a simple horror movie, with no elaborate visual effects, the film clocked up a very decent RMB80 million (US$13 million) on release in China, a third more than its predecessor. The money-making franchise looks set to continue, with a third instalment reportedly in the works for 2014, again aiming for a mid-July slot. (This strategy is seemingly imported from An's native South Korea where horror movies used to traditionally open in the summer before the market collapsed a few years ago.) Hopefully, the English subtitles for the next instalment will do away with the silly use of western names for the characters, like "Cherry", "Frank" and "John", let alone "Yuki".