After the enormous success of the original, a return to the Zhisheng household was assured as this sequel returns to the cursed house for yet another impressive installment. Now helmed by rising Chinese genre director Joe Chien, this new opus arrives on DVD and digital from WellGo USA on December 4.
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A hundred years after the mysterious murders of the entire Zhisheng household, cultural relic restorer Song Teng (Julian Cheung, from “The Grandmaster”) arrives at the scene to investigate the strange claims that the house is haunted. When his duties force his wife Doctor He Fei (Mei Ting, from “Blind Massage”) to spend their anniversary at the house alongside his assistant Lao Yin (Gillian Chung, from “Ip Man: The Final Fight”), she suddenly begins to experience strange images and phenomenon while in the house. The more she spends in the house, the more she finds herself manipulated by the spirits of the past, including Xie Meiying (Vivian Wu, from “The Pillow Book”) as their lives interconnect in a very dangerous method, forcing everyone to uncover the secret of the house’s grisly history to get away alive.
For the most part, this is quite the fun sequel. Much like the original, ‘House That Never Dies 2’ works its best when delving deep into the supernatural. The film features numerous such scenes and is quite prominent throughout here. The advent of the curses allows for the vomiting of worms and maggots and other such creatures just by being near the building, which is quite nice, while the flash-cut images of skeleton faces or falling limbs grazing characters, provide a solid backdrop to the rest of the material at play. Once inside the sprawling Gothic-styled manner, the opulence and overall design of the house allows for the supernatural setups to feel quite at home. Set amid the endless corridors, elaborate designs of the rooms and the various decorations within, scenes featuring the sudden appearance of blood spilling from book pages, light-bulbs crashing and exploding or insect swarms to suddenly appear and chase them around the house, make sense.
The manner in which this drives a more psychologically-charged storyline that drives her to madness the more she’s around the house, adds a rather strong secondary aspect to the creepiness of the film. By tackling the issue of He Fei’s guilt over the loss of her daughter and then adding on the scenes of the ghost daughter running through the house, this triggers many of the supernatural tie-ins later in the film. That mostly means the few dreams she has, trying to reach the ghost before the house crumbles around her, having the children’s toys trigger various other confrontations between the two of them or even cause her to believe in the affair story, really brings about a pretty creepy storyline. Most of this is due to the incredibly strong acting of Mei Ting as Ha Fei, who plays the role of the woman slowly losing her sanity as the events unfold, quite well. Garnering audience sympathy as she undergoes these strange situations that emerge, her portrayal of a previously mild-mannered woman forced into outcome is quite enjoyable overall.
As well as Ting’s great performance, the rest of the cast here is rather enjoyable. Julian Cheung as her husband Song Teng initially seems like the lead character with his fine turn in the first half as the scientist looking for answers, only to get swallowed up the overwhelming showcase that Ting brings out. Willing to stick by her side and stay with her, he comes off as the stoic and unfeeling husband without really doing much to get the audience away from siding with him. By never going down the road of being a jerk, he just comes off as the clueless yet still loyal partner which is nicely appreciated. As the assistant Lao Yin, Gillian Chung is a rather intriguing character. Basically thrust into the adulterer role through the house’s influence rather than how she reacts toward Song Teng, she is incredibly enjoyable to watch in the opposite role than expected. Also graced with Vivian Wu and Joan Chen among its stellar cast, there’s a lot to like in this aspect of the film.
There isn’t much in the way of flaws present, but they are pretty prominent. The main issue to contend with is the collective screenplay by Frankie Tam, Cai Jun and Huang Huihui that’s far busier than it needs to be. ‘House that Never Dies 2’ works best dealing with the connection between them being in the house and how the events of the past are influencing their actions, which could’ve made for an intriguing storyline going back-and-forth in time. However, adding in the storyline about the perceived adultery and the potential employee trying to steal her away, doesn’t really need to be included in the film. Rather, they cause director Chien to drag the pace down to such a degree that it feels stagnant and dull for long stretches detailing all these potential segments. As well, they also cause the storyline involving the devious sorcerer to feel underdeveloped and misses out on the potential for some creepy imagery showing how he goes about his craft. This is missing in the finished product that could’ve added more creepiness to the film. This issue ends up lowering this one enough to keep it down.
In the end, ‘House That Never Dies 2’ emerges as a fine follow-up that entertains enough to be worth a look for those that enjoy these kinds of slow-burn ghost stories. Highly recommended to fans of the original or the curious about its positives aspects, while those that aren’t as interested here should heed caution until tackling the original.