Review: ‘Shadows’ (2023), starring Stephy Tang, Philip Keung, Tse Kwan Ho, Ben Yuen, Ling Man Lung, Justin Cheung, Jennifer Yu and Babyjohn Choi

July 17, 2023

by Carla Hay

Stephy Tang in “Shadows” (Photo courtesy of One Cool Pictures and M2M Entertainment)

“Shadows” (2023)

Directed by Glenn Chan

Cantonese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hong Kong, the horror film “Shadows” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A forensic psychiatrist, who has psychic abilities that allow her to read people’s minds and see their past, begins to suspect that another psychiatrist has been manipulating some of his patients to commit murder.

Culture Audience: “Shadows” will appeal primarily to people who like murder mysteries with supernatural elements.

Tse Kwan Ho in “Shadows” (Photo courtesy of One Cool Pictures and M2M Entertainment)

“Shadows” is a haunting and effective thriller that mixes the supernatural and criminal law. The movie works better as a horror story than as a story about solving murder cases. Some of the plot is too mysterious, but the visuals and acting are impressive. The movie’s ending will probably divide viewers. Some viewers with criticisms about the last few scenes will probably argue that the movie should have had a different outcome. However, the movie had enough clues hinting that the story could have ended in this way.

Directed by Glenn Chan (his feature-film directorial debut) and written by Chang Kai Xiang and Mani Man Pui-Hing, “Shadows” had its world premiere at the 2020 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, but the movie didn’t get released in theaters until 2023. “Shadows” takes place in Hong Kong, where a series of murders are being committed by people who had no previous history of violence. What all of these killers have in common is that they are or have recently been patients of a particular psychiatrist, who is known for believing that people are inherently bad.

“Shadows” begins at the murder scene that sets off the investigation. An award-winning social worker named Chu Chun Yung (played by Justin Cheung), who is 36 years old, has just murdered his 9-year-old-daughter (played by Leung Lok Ching), his 34-year-old wife (played by Lai Jessica Whitney) and his wife’s 64-year-old mother (played by Pang Mei Sheung), who all lived with him in an apartment building. Yung is seen confessing to the murders when he calls an emergency number to summon police. After making the phone call, Yung jumps out of an apartment window.

It’s soon revealed that Yung survived the jump. He has been arrested and taken to a hospital, where a forensic psychiatrist in her late 30s named Dr. Tsui Hiu Ching (played by Stephy Tang), who works closely with the local police, has been tasked with evaluating Yung’s mental stability, to determine if he was insane or not at the time he committed the murders. Yung seems to be in a trance-like state when Ching interviews him. All he will say about the murders is that it was like feeling hungry and then eating a satisfying meal.

Before meeting with Yung, Ching is seen having a private one-on-one meeting with one of her patients named Kloudia (played by Jennifer Yu), who is a timid and forlorn teenager. Ching tries to get Kloudia to open up to her about what’s bothering Kloudia. All that Kloudia will say is, “It’s too late. There’s no escape.”

At that moment, viewers find out that Ching has psychic abilities. She can enter into people’s conscious minds and see into their past. When Ching enters Kloudia’s mind, it’s like she’s stepping into the same where Kloudia s and reliving her past experiences as as n observer. However, the other people in the room cannot see Ching.

During this psychic trip (which is depicted in a very spooky way with murky locations and menacing black smoke, Ching can see that Kloudia’s father (played by Li Ying To) has been physically and verbally abusive to Kloudia. Ching witnesses Kloudia’s father beating Kloudia and tries in vain to shout to Kloudia to run away and not take this abuse any more. Suddenly, Ching is brought back from this psychic trip and sees that Kloudia is has been screaming in her chair and cowering with fear.

Kloudia’s father, who has been paying for these therapist sessions, suddenly bursts into the room with Kloudia’s mother (played by Leong Cheok Mei), because they’ve heard all the commotion on the room. (Kloudia’s parents don’t have names in the movie.) Ching immediately accuses Kloudia’s father of abusing Kloudia.

Kloudia’s mother scoffs at this accusation and defneds her husband by saying that he’s a good man. Kloudia’s father also denies the abuse and questions Ching’s competence. Needless to say, that’s the last time that Kloudia has a session with Ching. But it won’t be the last time that Kloudia is in the movie.

The homicide detective who is the lead investigator for the Chu family murders is a bachelor named Ho Shun Fatt (played by Philip Keung), who is tough on the outside, but he can be tender on the inside. His tenderness mainly comes from taking care of a foster daughter named Dao-Dao (played by Keira Wang), who is about 6 or 7 years old. Dao-Dao is intelligent and adorable.

The movie doesn’t really explain Dao-Dao’s background and how Fatt ended up being her foster father. However, it’s shown more than once in the movie that Fatt gets so busy with his work, he’s sometimes late in picking up Dao-Dao from school. Dao-Dao has an easygoing schoolteacher named Cheung (played by Babyjohn Choi), who usually looks after Dao-Dao until Fatt arrives to pick up Dao-Dao from school.

Around the same time that the Chu family murders are being investigated, Ching does a speaking appearance at a local university. The subject is psychiatry and the human condition. Two people are interviewed on stage for this speaking appearance: Ching and a well-known psychiatrist named Dr. Yan Chung Kwong (played by Tse Kwan Ho), who has beliefs that are the opposite of Ching’s. For example, Ching is more likely than Kwong to believe that mental illness can cause people to commit murder.

Ching tells the audience that people are inherently good, while Kwong tells the audience that people are inherently bad. He says it’s why laws are in place to prevent people to giving in to their natural impulses to sin and to punish people who break the laws. Kwong believes that if people were inherently good, there wouldn’t be a need for these laws in the first place. Kwong later says in the movie, “The more evil someone is, the more likely they are to pretend otherwise.”

Kwong is a mysterious, middle-aged bachelor whose past is explained at one point in the movie. He was living in Europe for several years but recently moved back to his native Hong Kong. Ching becomes suspicious of Kwong when she finds out that several of his past and present Hong Kong patients, who had no prior history of violence, have been murdering people. Former social worker Yung is one of those patients. Kwong had recently been treating Yung for anxiety and depression.

Fatt reports to the no-nonsense Inspector To (played by Leung Kin Ping) and has two younger subordinates who are working closely with him on this case: Officer Choy (played by Locker Lam) and Officer Judy (played by Fung Hoi Yui), who are all somewhat generic characters. Fatt is the police detective with the most clearly defined personality and the best lines of dialogue. He’s diligent about his work in the office and out in the field. He also doesn’t like to jump to conclusions and likes to gather as many facts as possible.

The investigation takes Fatt and his colleagues to various places. One of them is Ping Che Nursing Home, where a young male nurse named Lau Po Keung (played by Ling Man Lung) comes under suspicion when two of his elderly patients—a man named Chiu (played by Mak Lok Sun) and a woman named Mui (played by Yeung Yee Yee)—disappear from the nursing home. Keung’s co-worker Wong Zi Hin (played by Cheung Lap Fung) is also questioned.

One of the criticisms that “Shadows” might get is that it never fully explains how long Ching has had her psychic abilities. However, there are hints later in the movie that Ching probably didn’t have or wasn’t aware of these psychic abilities until she became an adult. Fatt wonders about Ching’s own mental stability when she becomes more insistent that Kwong is brainwashing his patients to commit murder. Fatt does a background check on Ching and finds out that Ching’s widower father Tsui Yong Sek (played by Ben Yuen) was a construction worker who has recently been released from prison.

“Shadows” is occasionally gruesome in some of its horror aspects. Viewers who get easily squeamish should be warned that there’s a scene that involves a murderer removing skin from someone’s body—not in full, explicit details, but blood and the skinning aftermath are shown. The police procedural aspects of “Shadows” move along at a very good pace. And the banter between Ching and Fatt is interesting to watch, even if Keung’s cop character is the type of police officer who has been in many other movies and TV shows.

Tang gives the best performance of the cast members, since her character is the most complex and the most unique. Tse is also noteworthy for his unsettling performance as Kwong. Up until a certain point in the movie, viewers will be wondering if Kwong is a cynical psychiatrist, or if he is truly evil. The answer is revealed about halfway through “Shadows,” but this revelation doesn’t take away from the suspense that this flawed but fascinating horror movie has to offer.

One Cool Pictures and M2M Entertainment released “Shadows” in select U.S. cinemas on July 14, 2023. The movie was released in Hong Kong on February 23, 2023, and in Singapore on March 2, 2023.

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