Bearing some mild similarities to J-horror conventions, especially the long black hair and the spooky, pale face that pops up out of nowhere, 'Matrimony' takes a bold direction in making its ghostly apparition very friendly and chatty. This, of course, is soon revealed as a ploy in order to win the trust of one very gullible but miserably lonely housewife. Her husband is a verbally-abusive jerk and she has co friends in the idyllic mansion perfectly nestled amongst a forest by a small lake. The ghost, Xu Manli (Fan Bingbing), is the husband's former girlfriend, who died in a car accident the year prior and befriends the wife, Sansan (Rene Liu), with promises of showing her how to win the heart of Shen Junchu (Leon Lai).
This is rather new and different as the two women talk much and appear to become fairly close. At one point, Sansan goes so far as to allow Manli to temporarily possess her and be able to touch the man she still harbors feelings for without sending him into a coughing frenzy. (Kind of reminds me of the sudden bouts of sneezing in 'Ghost Town.') In all this, the script by Qianling Yang and Jialu Zhang feels like it meanders and rambles on, losing all sense of suspenseful tension and atmosphere. It's not difficult to see the point of this constant chatting, however, especially once Sansan cuts her hair and starts looking more like Manli, but unfortunately, it's also to the film's detriment as it brings everything to a very slow crawl for a frustrating and disappointing payoff.
Another strong and worthwhile aspect is Junchu's unhealthy preoccupation of Manli and his collecting all her material belongings in the attic where many of the creepy hauntings occur. It's understandable the character is still in mourning, battling overwhelming feelings of guilt and regret because she sadly died on the day he was about to propose, but the filmmakers interestingly use his fixation as a psychological possession of sorts, making Junchu incapable to love another or find a sense of normalcy. We can even go so far as to suggest his obsession is probably the reason why Manli can't find peace in death — she lingers and scares his mother to the nuthouse because he refuses to let her go. Plenty of possibilities and potential with this fairly absorbing aspect of the plot are sadly wasted when the story changes into straightforward horror mode.
Essentially, what director Hua-Tao Teng and his team are attempting to do is marry two genres that are often viewed as opposed: the romantic drama with strong elements of horror conventions. It has the makings for the perfect date movie, but it fails to pull it off convincingly as the switch from paranormal suspense to drama and then an abrupt shift to supernatural horror not only causes serious conflicting, contrary issues but also opens many blatant plot holes in the narrative. Speaking of which, there is a somewhat troubling chauvinist undercurrent pervading the story as a whole. As the new woman in Junchu's life, the plot implies Sansan, the most innocent amongst the characters, must change nearly everything about herself in order to please and win the heart of her husband rather than the other way. This may be a small nitpick, but it is there and apparent enough to further ruin the film's enjoyment.
To be perfectly honest, I enjoyed 'Matrimony' to a small degree, and it managed to produce a few chills here and there, though not to the extent of making me fear the dark. The overall production is quite impressive, with amazing costuming, remarkable stage design and stunning cinematography by Ping Bin Lee. Frankly, it's a very lovely motion picture, but it's all for naught in a plot that also feels rather laborious and overlong, taking a fairly long time to arrive at the point. And by the time it finally does, tension and the opportunity to scare are lost, yet the story pushes forward to a ridiculously clichéd and unsatisfying happy conclusion.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Palisades Tartan brings 'Matrimony' to Blu-ray on Region A locked, BD25 disc inside the normal blue keepcase. A series of skippable trailers from the distributor's catalog kick things off before switching to a menu screen with options along the bottom, music and full-motion clips.
'Matrimony' walks down the Blu-ray aisle in what appears to be a handed down and somewhat worn 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.78:1). It's pretty clear the print used was not remastered and minimal effort was made to ensure the picture looks its best on its big high-def day. Although there are sequences worth appreciating, showing a good deal of clarity and definition, the majority of the video is fairly soft with a small level of visible noise around a few edges. Scratches, dirt and white specks sporadically appear and can be quite distracting. Contrast is mostly well-balanced, but it can run a tad hot at times, causing minor blooming in the highlights. Blacks are also good with acceptable shadow details, yet they seem somewhat faded and a little murky in a couple scenes. Colors benefit the most, as they look bold and plentiful, but it's one small positive to a presentation with several other issues.
The disappointment continues with a rather boring and somewhat troubled legacy Dolby Digital codec. Despite being given the choice between the original stereo soundtrack or 5.1 surround sound, both audio options have their own set of problems.
Starting with the upmixed track, atmospherics may spread into the rears so as to generate a few chills, but someone has decided to raise the decibels on those effects considerably. Not only does this make the presentation seems annoyingly loud, but it tends to drown out the dialogue on various occasions while also revealing a tad of distortion in the upper frequencies. When switching to stereo, the track seems more natural and fuller with a nice, welcoming soundstage and better vocals. However, it largely lacks dynamics with very little range in the design, feeling flat and uniform throughout but still exhibiting a good deal of audible air and noise within the mix. Making things worse is a noticeably lackluster low-end, which just adds to the boredom.
A troublesome, meddling ghost of a former lover haunts the house of a still-grieving man and his new wife in 'The Matrimony.' The Chinese supernatural horror flick tries its hand with a couple interesting twists to genre conventions, but it doesn't quite pull them off as intended. The Blu-ray arrives with an average but passable picture quality and a disappointing legacy audio presentation. A small collection of forgettable interviews rounds out the package, but overall, the release is an easy one to skip.