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Heirloom, The (2005)

Starring Terri Kwan, Jason Chang, Chang Yu-chen, Tender Huang

Directed by Leste Chen


There’s really nothing like a film that opens with incessant screaming going on over the credits. You just know the film you’re about to watch isn’t going to be nice to you when it starts things off with the anguished cries of a young girl.

The Heirloom (aka Zhai Bian) starts off with a scene in which and entire family has all hung themselves at the same time. As the credits role we see more and more of what’s happened, finally finding one survivor crawling her way through the dangling bodies, only to come face to face with a noose herself. Cut to present day.

James Yang (Chang) has just inherited a huge house from the family he never knew, having spent most of this life overseas. An architect by trade, he ignores the realtor’s suggestion to just sell it, as it requires too much work and is too large for just him, and instead asks his long-time girlfriend Yo (Kwan) to marry him. She’s hesitant, as she’s a professional dancer and was looking forward to moving abroad to try out new shows, but eventually accepts and moves into the mansion with James.

Pretty much as soon as they move in strange things start happening. Yo’s closest friend, Yi-Chen (Yu-Chen) doesn’t sow up to meet Yo after a dance recital, and Yo immediately worries as she’s never late. Later that night, Yi-Chen shows up in the creepy old house with no recollection how she got there. James’ friend Cheng (Huang) does the same disappearing act, and also shows up inside the house. But things take a turn for the worse when, one night at home alone, Cheng dies at exactly 12 midnight. When the body is found there’s no rope or evidence of a break in, but his cause of death matches exactly that of a hanging victim.

Determined to find out what’s going on, Yo tracks down James’ only living relative, an aunt who’s been in an insane asylum since James was a boy. She’s more than willing to give the twisted, disturbing history of James family, which involves black market infant sales and blood rituals, but is unable to explain just how the curse can be stopped. The only advice she gives is to make sure that James’ bloodline doesn’t continue. Of course, it might already be too late…

Newbie director Chen shows a great familiarity with the ways to creep out an audience, even if most of the time the methods are those that are overused by Asian cinema as a whole. A lot of suggested horror makes up the bulk of the scares, from distorted ghosts to creepy little children and, of course, a lot of nooses. But the backstory of the Yang family is interesting and original enough that, though the film was a bit confounding and dragging up until Yo goes to see James’ aunt, from the on I was fascinated by what was happening, and if there really was a way to stop it.

There are a lot of slow tracking shots and muted colors, so be sure to have a nice cup of coffee or two before you sit down with Heirloom. While U.S. horror seems to be speeding up more and more as the years go by, Asian cinema is still confident in it’s familiarity with the slow burn, and Heirloom is another great example of that. It’s no wonder Tartan Films have picked it up for DVD release this April.

The Heirloom disturbed me more and more upon reflection than it did while viewing it, if only the third act hadn’t amped up the horror for the first part then slowed it way down as the film worked it’s way to the closing credits. But for a first-time horror director, Chen shows real skill for creating an oppresive atmosphere and a prevailing sense of dread, a feet that is attempted but all to rarely pulled off these days. Some minor alterations in the pacing, and some more convincing performances by the lead would’ve helped, but all in all The Heirloom is worthwhile entry in the burgeoning Asian horror market.

3 out of 5

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