The Heirloom (aka Zhai bian) DVD Review
Written by Neon Maniac
DVD released by Tartan Video
Directed by Leste Chen
Written by Dorian Li
2005, Region 1 (NTSC), 96 Minutes, Rated R
DVD released on April 25th 2006
James has mysteriously inherited a family mansion that he never knew existed. It's a beautiful, if run down, old place, just outside of the Taipei suburbs. The commute is going to be a little tricky, but for a house like this, it's worth it. With a new house and a good job, James is ready to take the long walk down the aisle, and asks his long time girlfriend, Yo, to marry him. Newly engaged, Yo moves in with him and she begins to put the house in order. That's only the beginning of the horror James is going to find himself surrounded by!
Not even married yet, Yo begins to invite her friends over all the time. What's worse — her friends start appearing in the house out of nowhere, right around midnight each night. They don't know how they got there, and they don't know what they're doing. They just show up out of thin air. If that's not enough to drive poor James crazy, soon enough they start showing up dead! Each one of them has the appearance of being hanged, yet no rope is ever found. The only thing James does find, are little footprints throughout the house, and a locked attic door.
With nothing better to do than pry into her soon-to-be husband's private affairs, Yo digs into James' family history. She finds out his ancestors were into hsiao guei, the practice of worshipping the ghosts of dead babies. As part of the ritual, the family would keep a corral of stillborn fetuses in jars, feeding each with the blood of various family members. Creepy to be sure, but what does that have to do with the fact that James doesn't remember any of it, and that his only living relative is an aunt in a mental hospital? Why is everybody being hanged, and what, if anything, do the ghost babies have to do with it?
Yo's on the case, and she'll stop at nothing to bring the Ghost Babies to their final rest. But will the Ghost Babies let her and James rest?
Chinese horror films have a distinct flavor and brand of ancestor worship that is unique among Asian horror. While The Heirloom has been heavily influenced by the glut of Japanese horror that has come out in the last few years, it still remains a unique film with a decidedly Chinese take on life. It is also leaps and bounds above most of the other Chinese horror films that have come out in the past 10 years (Troublesome Night or Mr. Vampire, anyone?) The production values are excellent, the acting is top notch, and it does bring on the creepiness.
So, why didn't I like it as much as I should have?
The Heirloom has everything a good horror movie should, and it's all done very well. But for some reason, it just does not make that leap from average to great. Think of going on a blind date with someone who has all of the qualities you desire; looks, personality, the whole package. But the chemistry just isn't there. That is The Heirloom. I cannot find anything wrong with the film, but it just doesn't have the chemistry to click with the viewer. The connection is never made. This is a shame, because The Heirloom has all the trappings of great horror.
That said, The Heirloom is still worth a Saturday night rental. You might want to keep this between yourself and other die-hard fans of Asian horror, because while it's an interesting and creepy movie, The Heirloom won't be winning over any new fans to the genre.
Video and Audio:
The Heirloom has a nice, anamorphic presentation. Soft at times, but that has more to do with the filming than the transfer to DVD. Definitely a nice looking disc.
The Heirloom sports both a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a DTS 5.1 soundtrack. The DTS track is a bit louder than the Dolby 5.1, but otherwise there is not much difference between the two. Both sound very good, and pick up even the smallest off screen nuances.
Along with the original theatrical trailer, and trailers for other Tartan films, we are treated to an interview with the director and cast members, deleted scenes, a "making of" documentary, and a commentary with the director and cast members. There is some good stuff here, and it's well worth taking your time to sift through.