THE SECRET (2016) review

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Kai-Feng (Leon Lai) just lost his wife Qiu-Jie (Wang Luodan) in an avalanche during a romantic climbing trip in the Himalayas. Unable to cope with this loss, he seeks the counsel of a psychic on how to bring her back. And one morning there she is, seemingly in the flesh, though with only partial memories of her life. But the psychic has warned Kai-Feng: the spirit of his wife can only be seen by those who truly love her, and if she ever learns that she’s a spirit, she will disappear forever. Thus Kai-Feng does his best to maintain the fragile balance through which they can live together blissfully with their son Mu-Mu in their house, though soon his cousin Jimmy (JJ Lin) is in on the secret. One day however, Qiu-Jie realizes some people cannot see her: crushed by the realization that she’s only a spirit, she starts planning her departure from this world. That is, until she hears on the news that a body has been found on the site of the avalanche in the Himalayas…

Barbara Wong’s The Secret is one of those melodramas that manage to be poignant one scene, then utterly cringe-worthy the next. It doesn’t deal in subtlety, laying on a thick – though sometimes effective – layer of music by Mark Lui on every scene, resorting to tacky CGI ‘poetic’ enhancements (a CGI starry night by the sea can be quite ugly) and taking a jarring detour in a cartoonishly goofy flashback that shows how Qiu-Jie pursued/stalked Kai-Feng for years in high school: it even includes a piss joke. There’s also a repetitiveness to the film’s structure, with a lot of consecutive huggy reconciliation and teary farewells, and it doesn’t help that most of the film takes place inside the family’s luxurious  and unrealistically neat house, shot in white hues like some kind of interior design commercial.

And yet despite all this, The Secret is sometimes effective and poignant. Leon Lai and Wang Luodan share an appealing chemistry, especially in the few flashbacks of their life together (well, except the aforementioned high school one), where they get to showcase the couple’s fun-loving side in a believable way that too few melodramas can manage. Wang is one of the most promising actresses in Chinese cinema, equally assured in goofy dancing and in gut-wrenching grief. Lai has been quietly maturing these past few years, and despite a haircut that does him no favors, he does some of his best work here, especially in a truly affecting scenes near the end of the film, as he attempts to reconcile with his estranged father beautifully played by Sek Sou. The film has a twist that most people will see coming from a mile off, but even without the element of surprise, it brings a new sense of heartbreak to the proceedings, and cleverly adds a layer to Leon Lai’s character.

Long Story Short: Alternatively cringe-worthy and poignant, The Secret lays on the melodrama quite thick but benefits from the appealing duo of Leon Lai and Wang Luodan, and achieves moments of true emotion. **1/2

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