Looking at Keeper of Darkness on paper, you’d be thrown off by how much fun this film really is. You read the premise, you see the style and you watch the opening few minutes and you’re settled in for a really dark gothic fantasy…and then suddenly the film just becomes a lot of fun. You laugh a lot more than you expect, you love the quirky ghosts, you’re eager to see more of the funny triad gang. The hopelessly enthusiastic sidekick, Chung (Louis Cheung), plays perfectly against the film’s quiet and serious lead Fatt, played by Nick Cheung – who also directed and wrote the film.
Fatt is a triad leader who has the ‘third eye’. In short, it means he can see and interact with spirits who haven’t passed over to their next life. Spirits are left on this world if they committed suicide or are victims of crime. The latter seems like a harsh deal, but these are the rules. Fatt uses his abilities to interact, reason with or, if need be, exorcise spirits. This draws the attention of news reporter, Ling (Sisley Choi) as well as powerful evil spirit Hark (Shi Yanneng), who wants to exploit Fatt for his own means. While Fatt has a set of skills at his disposal, he also has aid in the form of the comically offbeat Chung, who longs to have the third eye too. Fatt also uses his triad gang to keep people such as the police off his back, get around places and generally back him up. The triad gang, Chung and Ling are the comic relief and we could really do with more of them.
Keeper of Darkness all in all is best described as a genre mishmash. It’s a gothic fantasy, a gangster comedy, a horror and all of which is surrounded by a romance. Nick Cheung takes his second stab at directing and Keeper of Darkness isn’t bad at all. You can see moments where clearly his ego has gotten the better of him and you can also see the areas where he’s a little raw. His shot choices are somewhat questionable. The film is effects heavy and while they’re not amazing, they’re not awful either. The ghosts and gouls are a little over the top sometimes, but others are well thought out – like a charred ghost who died in a fire, or Cherr (Amber Kuo), the spirit that lives with Fatt who’s constantly soaked because she died drowning. Nice little touches like that impress. The switch between the real world we see around us and the ghosts which Fatt sees with his third eye are nicely transitioned and the afterlife is as dark and gruesome as you could imagine.
Keeper of Darkness isn’t without its flaws though and suffers from a case of over-ambition. Cheung definitely tries to pack far too much into this story, which could have been a relatively simple and entertaining one. The bloated story is plagued with inconsistent tonal shifts, which over-saturate the end product. The worst of it all coming in the final 10-15 minutes where it abandons all other elements in favour of solely focussing on a romantic story. This film could have been great, but instead due to its misjudged direction simply lands around the OK category. It’s still a lot fun but it should have stayed in the area where it was comfortable in and thrived under rather trying to aim for something that ultimately let the film down.
Keeper of Darkness will screen on July 9th at noon at the SVA Theatre.