THE ROPE CURSE (FILM REVIEW)

A suicide is tragic enough, but there’s something extra about the image of a hanging body that never fails to chill one to the bone. So it’s not surprising that in parts of Fujian and Taiwan, that a ritual has been created to combat the horror of a person hanging by choice.

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It is given a nickname: sending rice dumplings – a more innocuous term for the spiritual procession that delivers the spirit of the deceased away from the location of hanging. And it’s an elaborate one. The rope is retrieved, and the area it was hung from cut down if possible. The fearsome Zhongkui deity then leads the rope away, to be cast to the sea, with plenty of talismans and firecrackers along the way.

While locals in the path of the ritual will shutter windows and doors and place upturned brooms to ward off the evil, Jiawei (Jason Tsou) is banking on livestreaming this tradition to generate impressions on his social channel, all in a bid to earn advertising money enough for his marriage to Shuyi (Kimi Hsia).

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A literal bump in the road occurs and the rope drops unseen from the ritual bag, and continues its curse. Jiawei gets pulled in when the death of his talent turns up dubious, but Shuyi also gets wrapped up in nightmares of a childhood friend.

Liao Shih Han’s The Rope Curse mostly succeeds in creating a frightening revenge tale of an aggrieved spirit. There’s plenty of sequences played out with clever editing and the plot moves fairly quickly, just a tad bogged down by redundant flashbacks as the back story unfolds. Maybe a better understanding of similar material might help? It’s not an entirely original story – bullied girl comes back to avenge her classmates – so the audience doesn’t need so much explanation or rehashed scenes of petty bullying. But because Shuyi was her best (if only) friend, we have enough to keep going.

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Chen Po Cheng as the priest who dispenses his wisdom and skills is always a riot, his stern no-nonsense ways acting as the occasional comic relief when his nephew acts up. And the leads demonstrate their motivations well, if a little lacking in romantic chemistry. The ball drops with the bullied spirit. The girl is a caricature – bad haircut, dorky glasses, timid manners – and the rendition is bordering on comic, which makes it hard for the audience to feel for her.

As a ghost she’s sometimes creepy (usually as a blur in the background), but when she is more clearly seen, the make-up and blood is again – almost laughable. This, luckily, does not happen very often, so The Rope Curse manages to keep the suspense and horror quotient satisfying.

The film works best when the ritualistic proceedings are going on. And supported by some lush visuals and lighting, makes the film a decent treat for fans into Asian horror.

Rating: 3.5*

The spirit causing chaos might need some help in her make-up and characterisation, but the native spiritual practices maintain this film as satisfying horror fodder.

First published: http://www.movieXclusive.com

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