Directed by Wellson Chin, Taiwan, 1997, 88 mins., starring Chi Wah (Dayo) Wong, Ruby Wong, Law Lan, and Wong Man Yee.
Kids have always gotten a bad rep in horror films. The Omen, The Bad Seed, The Exorcist, Phone, and most recently, Godsend all display the tried and true formulations of kids gone bad to an extreme degree. Perhaps it's the inherent chill factor of such innocence being wielded for pure evil that scares the bejesus out of us. Too bad in this film, it is neither chilling nor extreme.
Temegotchi (aka Si yu si ri) plays with that idea in such a light and shallow way it's rather difficult to take it seriously. All the familiar elements are there - troubled child, concerned adults, hapless victims that get offed in conveniently accident-type ways - yet all these elements make the film something we've already seen before in countless horror and suspense films. Originality seems to be lacking in a major way, and the film suffers for it.
Idea-wise, it's pretty familiar territory. A vengeful spirit (or is it?) that seeks to be heard while going homicidal at the same time - take your pick: Gawi, Ju-on, Ring - so on and so forth. But this is a mere detail. Really, the heart of the movie seems to be more centered on a perfectly charming relationship between a policeman and a social worker. Sadly, Temegotchi, to have worked to its fullest advantage and played to its greatest strength, should have ended up as a rather sweet romantic bit of fluff. But nope – after all, there's money in them there teens, and the creative team behind the movie clearly targeted this kind of lightweight teen-screamer at that demographic – just as movies like Phone and The Ring have done in latter years.
What really bogs the film down is that none of the horror elements are used to their full extent. It plays in a very safe style, attempting to put the fear of God into us while all the time letting us know that it's just a movie. It's this type of safety that fails any true horror film attempt. Plus, it's become horribly dated. The music and overall look of the film place it firmly in the "mid-90s no-budget" bargain bucket. Even the horrible encoding meant that when we cleaned up the few worthwhile screen captures we could get, the dark blue cast turned bright red. Now, that's poor quality for you.
And it's not as though the acting can save it: frankly, the standard of performance here is just awful - more wooden than the contents of an entire lumber yard. The social worker, Sam (Ruby Wong) and her policeman boyfriend Wan (Chi Wah Wong) are fine, and play their parts quite well: they make a rather sweet couple, and all told, are easily the best thing about the film.
However, unlike something like, say, Phone, where the performance from the child actress was just outstanding given her age (five years old!) and pretty much carried the entire movie, the child actress who's playing the supposedly "evil" character Tin Tin here just doesn't deliver any kind of performance whatsoever. Granted, the character is mute, which doesn't help. But what really sets her apart is that she only has one facial expression – and that ain't too cute, evil, interesting or, well, anything either. It's a sullen, rather stupid, cross-eyed scowl that she basically wears throughout the entire movie, no matter what events are unfolding "dramatically" around her. I personally would have thought in the whole of HK, the casting director could have found a better child actor than this one.
Conversely though – and from a purely historical point of view – Temegotchi (and no, we don't know why this film appears to be named after one of those irritating 'cyberpets' that were all the rage years ago, perhaps it was a strange attempt to market the movie on the back of the toy market!) does actually carry a fair amount of clout, inasmuch as, like its equally rubbish and throwaway counterpart Kokkuri, it appears to have influenced and informed an awful lot of really fine, properly scary horror movies (and one stinker - feardotcom) which came after it:
1. Scary little girl (Phone, Dark Water, Ring, Ring 0: Birthday, Kourei)
2. Scary little girl with white ball (feardotcom)
3. Nosebleed when a character either discovers or reveals information the evil character doesn't want made known (The Ring)
4. Evil twin (Ring 0)
5. Screaming corpse found in cupboard (Ring)
6. Scary kiddy drawings (Dark Water, The Ring)
7. Dubious mother-based endings (Dark Water)
Taken historically only, looking at its influence on these other (infinitely better and scarier) films, it might be considered that Temegotchi is actually a very important piece in this context. But on its own? It's really a useless movie of no merit whatsoever. The producers might have done better by removing all the cod-supernatural unscary-scares and keeping it as a cutesy romance, because as it stands, no part of this film is effective. Even the visuals are uninspired and duller than a wet weekend in Taipei.
When a child has been missing school, a concerned teacher pays a visit to the child's home. There, she finds the guardians on the child dead, and finds something else that causes her to go bonkers. As the police arrive, they haul her off to the police station, accusing her of the death of this little girl's guardians. All the while, the teacher exclaims, "Beware of Tin Tin Wang, she is evil!"
A social worker, Sam, is called in to talk to Tin Tin, and finds the girl with multiple scratches and bruises. She concludes her as a battered child and decides to send her to an orphanage. Once there, the little girl gets bullied by the other kids, and finds herself being the object of interest by the headmaster, Uncle Cheung. His attempts of molestation are often met with tragic consequences, at one time being attacked by a volleyball. As punishment for her non-acquiescence, he would lock her up in a storage room.
When the social worker discovers this, she has a cow and demands to see the headmaster. They let Tin Tin out, and he, for some strange reason, freaks out and proceeds to run to the roof of the school. Sam follows to appease him, only to fall under the wrath of Tin Tin. He falls, and it looked as if Sam had pushed him off. The police intervene, and Sam ends up in jail. Detained, she figures out that all the deaths and accidents are connected to Tin Tin somehow. She must escape and try to find answers.
Meanwhile, Tin Tin gets adopted by an elderly couple, and we see her finally being taken care of by them. She totally gets a montage complete with bubble, walks in the park, proper nutrition - you get it. Yet for all their good intentions, they still somehow fall under the wrathful vengeance of Tin Tin. But is it really Tin Tin behind all the killings? After all, she's only a little girl, and dumb, at that...
Deciding that only she can unravel the mystery, Sam gets out of jail and finds out about Tin Tin's latest victims. On the way to find her, she is stopped by a series on tragic and mysterious events. The evil that is Tin Tin becomes more complicated as she discovers things aren't so simple as good and evil...
On the surface, from Temegotchi you get what you want in a typical horror movie. An interesting mystery, a few frightening moments, and a satisfying, neat and tidy resolution. Still, going back to my previous statement, everything is just too safe. Not interesting safe, but boring safe.
And it's slightly absurd too. Case in point, the object of fear - a killer ball. A white ball, like the one in 60s TV weird-out The Prisoner only smaller, that bounces all throughout the movie, which at times looks like a balloon, but is a ball. Confusing? More like distracting. There's no actual history to the killer ball, it's just there, and we're expected to cower in fear at the mere sight of it. It may be the least scary plot device ever. It doesn't look as if it could deliver a bruise-inducing blow to a puppy, let alone kill a full-grown adult.
Frankly, the only scary bit of the entire film involves a subplot based around a thoroughly unpleasant and creepy paedophile care-worker character, and genuinely, the plot could have done without that – it just adds an extra frisson of revulsion that isn't needed or wanted.
In terms of construction, this film does have the necessary elements: enough so to even have apparently informed Hideo Nakata, one of the all-time masters of Asian horror. The plot, like most Asian horror films, is slow-moving, and you really do feel it. It's not the effective slow-burn technique mastered by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Nakata, it's just slow, bringing a snail's pace to the film that all but prevents it from being effective.
There's just something about Taiwanese and Hong Kong horror films that doesn't work for me. They seem to lack a lot in atmosphere and feelings of dread. For all its talent and technical know-how, they don't succeed in making excellent horror films. Perhaps it's a cultural thing, maybe it's a historical thing, but horror films from Hong Kong and Taiwan fail on so many levels that it prevents you in immersing yourself in the story and plot. You just wait for it to end and forget about it afterwards. Their storytelling is very linear and, again, safe. And this film is a perfect example of that.
If anything, it might have been better if the director had concentrated more on the romantic subplot and elements of the story, as the sequences featuring the policeman and his girlfriend contain a fair amount of charm that the supernatural segments simply lack. Strip out the flat, utterly unscary horror elements, and at its heart is a great big soppy romance/tragedy that would do any so-called 'chick flick' justice.
So at the end of the day, is it actually worth watching? From a historical point of view Temegotchi has some (admittedly very limited) interest value. Seeing it, in retrospect of having watched the big names such as Ring and Dark Water, is an interesting enough experience, which unfortunately the movie itself is not. If you are an insane completist collecting Asian ghost films, you'll no doubt want to have this one in your collection. If it's entertainment and a chilling time you're after, avoid Temegotchi at all costs.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this
Entertainment value: 4/10
Chills: 0/10 - well, are you scared of white balloons? It must make it hard to go to parties if you are ;-)
Sex: 1/10. There's a over-horny copper in it! That affords the movie a single point, at least ;-)
Scary Children: 0
Supposedly Scary Children With Perma-Scowls: 1
Scary Old Bags: 1
Litres of Tomato Ketchup: half a bottle - not even Heinz can save this stinker
(Infinitely Superior) Films in a Similar Style: Phone, Dark Water, Ring, Kourei
*** Poor, dull and only of historical interest ***
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.
You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2004
Snowblood Apple Filmographies
Chi Wah Wong
Links (few and far between...)
a short informational segment at Cinemasie [French only]
http://slasherpool.starbase.se/htm/lists/top_1997.htm - another, very short paragraph - someone else clearly picked up on the feardotcom influence... ;-)
http://www.ne.jp/asahi/betty/boop/temegotchi.htm - lots of images here, plus a very long review [Japanese only]
http://www.gatto.schnittberichte.com/movies3/temegotchi.html - review plus plenty of good-size pics [German only]