The Second Coming

Hong Kong/Taiwan/Singapore (2014) Dirs. Herman Yau & Ng Tin-chi

Revenge may be a dish best served cold but it can also be a bloody and horrific one, as the Chen family are about to find out in noted Hong Kong action/crime thriller director Herman Yau’s latest film, a joint production between Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.

Ming (Kenny Wong) and Jen (Maggie Siu) have finally made a stable life for themselves after years of struggling and hardship, with two children, 20 year-old Sunny (Don Lee) who is studying medicine abroad and thirteen year-old Lucy (Joey Leong). It is the eve of Lucy’s fourteenth birthday and Jen buys her daughter and early present in the form of a small dog named Kumi. On the first night Kumi runs to the yard and digs up a buried jar which a curious Lucy takes inside and opens releasing a weird mist.

From hereon in Lucy begins to act oddly, apparently seeing things others can’t and having bizarre psychotic experiences. At first the family are mystified until a reflection on the history Ming and Jen has kept secret from their kids suggests there is a connection between a drastic incident from the past and Lucy’s current psychodrama.

The Second Coming sees Herman Yau returning to the murky waters of Cat III films (for the uninitiated Category III films are restricted to over 18’s due to their adult content) where he first made his name – including 1996’s Ebola Syndrome – to bring us a 3D horror. It doesn’t boast much in the way of originality in the early going but gradually draws the viewer in with its timely piecemeal revelations and deftly handed plot twists, buttressed by some strong lead performances.

It’s not just a straightforward horror film as the story features a little social commentary on how the financial straits of our couple played an unfortunate part in the eventual supernatural torment they are later to suffer. It’s nothing too heavy or didactic so don’t expect to be bludgeoned with constant pricks of the conscience to sympathise with the Chengs but it makes for an interesting set up to explain the motivations of the parents’ actions .

When we first meet Lucy she seems to be your average teenage girl (apparently a bit of a retro fan with her Pink Floyd Posters and Fleetwood Mac “rumour” t-shirt), jovial, well behaved and excited for her birthday. Kumi was a nice primer and the little pup seems to acclimatise to his new home and owner remarkably quickly but never mind. Once the jar opens, Lucy is distracted by the mist thus unaware of the frisky insect that also escapes the jar.

From here Lucy begins to see some odd things around the home which produce some nice little scares and not all that predictable either. If this wasn’t alarming enough for the family, Lucy’s behaviour worsens, leading to a visit to a psychiatrist who cannot provide any suitable answers. A dangerous moment for Ming when he is locked in the shower which suddenly shoots out jets of scolding water as a malevolent looking Lucy watches on draws the conclusion Lucy has been possessed.

Jen is given the number of a spiritualist (Susan Shaw) to whom she reveals her secret past in the hopes of finding the cause of Lucy’s behaviour. This is where the Asian flavour shines through to make this a more unique horror experience for the genre’s fans. While not a hugely religious continent our Far East Asian friends are very spiritual in their attitudes and belief towards life and death and this plays a part in the events that play out in the film.

The contents of the jar play a significant part in the big reveal but are not what you may assume them to be, the same for the central reason for the haunting which again is a masterstroke of misdirection. Some of the scares are fairly inventive with Yau and co-writer/co-director Ng Tin-chi trying hard to reinvent the wheel with their set-ups. The aforementioned shower scene is just one example of their “keep it simple” philosophy which pays off.

It is when they get ambitious however that the bigger set pieces are often let down by some ropey CGI; the finale is an example of this but not to the point of being totally detrimental to the overall effect. This is a temporary glitch in what is a truly unnerving, jaw dropping and flesh crawling scene that would put the willies up the bogeyman himself! Naturally I won’t spoil it but it is a wonderful culmination of everything that lead up to it with a nice twist and genuine terror. 

Up until this point much of what creeps us out is delivered largely through the eyes of Lucy and her otherworldly visions, such as rampaging maggots and fringe dwelling horrors – that and the superb performance by Singapore youngster Joey Leong who engages with  a multitude of turns as her personality switches between spooked schoolgirl to very disturbed, possessed freak. One scene with a bloodstained tissue is just wrong but Leong is sublimely ghoulish in her portrayal, not to mention the subtle physical change she undergoes as and when necessary.

The two main adult leads are competent support for Leong, with Maggie Siu in particular becoming completely convincing in the second half and more than delivering in the final act to make the already discussed reveal a memorably nightmarish scene. Senior veteran Susan Shaw is just on the right side of corny in a small and rather convenient role as the spiritualist.  

In an overcrowded market The Second Coming might have some trouble in standing out from the rest but once it gets going, and thanks to the fabulous Joey Leong, this is a perfectly acceptable slice of Hong Kong horror which delivers a nasty enough short sharp shock!