Walk With Me (雙魂, Ryon Lee, 2019)

Walk with me still 3“I will be at your side for ever and ever” promises a creepy doll at the centre of Ryon Lee’s Walk with Me (雙魂, Shuāng Hún). It might be better to have the creepy doll on your side rather than on someone else’s but, all things considered, it’s a heavy thing to carry. At least, that’s how the heroine, Sam (Michelle Wai Si-nga), begins to feel when she starts to wonder if spilling all her anxieties onto the doll was the best idea seeing as now people around her seem to be “disappearing”. Is the ghost inside the doll angry and taking its revenge, or is it just trying to protect? Assuming, as Sam does, that ghosts even exist.

A 20-something woman still living at home with an abusive, gambling father (Richard Ng Yiu-hon) and a mother (Anna Ng Yuen-Yi) still grieving for her lost little boy, Sam has a dead end job in a factory where she is being sexually harassed by the male bosses and mercilessly bullied by the other ladies on the floor. Part of the reason Sam is being bullied is that a woman in her building was recently “possessed” by the spirit of a dead child which is judged more than a coincidence seeing as Sam’s mother maintains a shrine and makes offerings to her late son. The strange goings on only started when Sam’s family moved in around 18 months previously so the obvious conclusions have been drawn.

Intensely lonely and a perpetual victim, Sam later tells a childhood friend she unexpectedly reconnects with that she has grown so used to being bullied that she just accepts it and has given up. Dao Dao, the creepy doll, has been her only companion for most of her life and Sam has been used to using it as a kind of therapy device, something she can talk to freely without fear of recriminations. Harbouring the uncomfortable belief that the doll may be possessed by the ghost of her little brother who died before he was even born, she is starting to worry that her father’s constant attempts to get rid of Dao Dao by cutting it up or otherwise brutally disposing of it may have made it angry. To test her belief that Dao Dao is the cause of the unexplained strangeness in her life, she’s started carrying it around with her which, of course, seems to be making the danger spread – conveniently into her work life where most of the people she most hates are located.

Meanwhile, she’s reconnected with York (Alex Lam) – a guy who used to be her only friend when they were kids and bonded over being bullied (her nickname was “bony”, his was “chubby” – he’s been working out ever since). Like the doll, York promises that he’ll always be by her side to protect her from mean people and ghosts too – he doesn’t believe in them but if Sam does then he’ll go with it. Pretty soon, York has moved into the spare room in their building and is doing his best to stand by Sam but the strangeness of events keeps escalating while Sam’s mental state fluctuates. She keeps thinking that she sees the ghost of a little girl in pig tails, but remains more afraid of bad people than of supernatural threat. Even her boss’ little daughter seems to be a budding psychopath, posed eagerly with her iPhone in front of the microwave in which she’s placed an adorable little puppy just to watch it go pop.

York tells Sam that if she wants to beat the darkness she’ll have to become a part of it, apparently meaning that she’ll need to become as strong as it is in order to stave it off. Events however point towards her interpretation, that she’ll eventually have to turn to the dark side in trying to stand up for herself or else remain a perpetual victim. It may very well be irrational to blame a doll for a crime spree, but then nobody seems to think getting possessed by a ghost, or trying to keep one in your home like pet, is anything out of the ordinary. In any case the ghosts Sam is most afraid of are the ones within herself, the ones that hint at her own duality, and embody all of the rage, despair, and guilt of which she is unable to speak. Dao Dao will indeed “always” be with her, only perhaps not quite in the way she thinks. A psychologically acute tale of painful repression and low self esteem, Walk With Me is less the story of a creepy doll and its supernatural revenge than of a lonely soul’s gradual fracturing under the intense pressure of constant rejection and wilful misuse.


Walk with Me screens on 4th July as part of the 2019 New York Asian Film Festival

Fat Buddies (胖子行动队, Bao Bei’er, 2018)

Fat Buddies posterChinese cinema hasn’t exactly had the best record when it comes to dealing with atypical heroes, but then no cinema really has. Gazing at the poster for Fat Buddies (胖子行动队, Pàngzi Xíngdòng Duì) – the debut directorial feature from actor Bao Beier who also stars, one can’t help but assume the next two hours will be one long joke at the protagonists’ expense, but to its credit Fat Buddies is not (entirely) the film it seems to be and, ironically enough, there is more going on beneath the surface than an excuse to have at a “permissible” target.

The hero, played by Bao Beier himself, is a very rotund security guard currently working in a hospital in Tokyo for reasons which will (mostly) be explained later. Though Hao is a cheerful and friendly man with a strong sense of justice, he is ostracised by the (strangely large number of) other guards and has no real friends save his extraordinarily beautiful Japanese wife. Hao’s life changes forever one day when another large Chinese man calling himself “J” arrives at the hospital and causes a ruckus by trying to escape without paying. J convinces Hao that he is an international super spy on a top secret mission and that he needs Hao’s help to get out of the hospital so he can save the world. Believing he is finally being given the chance to become the agent of justice he’s always dreamed of being, Hao is only too eager to oblige.

Strangely enough, the entire film takes place in Tokyo even though the heroes and antagonists are all Chinese. Even so, it never resorts to the comedic caricatures common in recent mainland cinema when depicting the Japanese with even the police characterised as dedicated and efficient if sometimes a little overzealous and misguided, though one does wonder if the setting was chosen solely for the sumo associations of the grand finale. There is however a degree of bite in Hao’s view of himself as a non-Japanese person living in Japan who is married to a Japanese citizen and speaks the language fluently but still remains an outsider both because of his unusual appearance and because of his nationality (with a mild implication from some that perhaps the two things are not entirely unrelated). In an early set piece, Hao and J find themselves trying to infiltrate an upscale party where they have unwittingly stolen the clothes of a pair of famous dancers and eventually end up improvising a strange routine to a bawdy song which is all about being a “foreigner” in Japan who “doesn’t understand Japanese but loves Sora Aoi” and then continues in a similarly lowbrow vein with a mix of Mandarin, international English, and intentionally broken Japanese.

Rather than a two hour fat joke – though there are a fair few of those in a recurrent motif of J getting stuck in things Pooh-style and losing his trousers in the process, the the major message is that the pair are fine as they are and apart from the aforementioned problem, their size is not a barrier to being able to do anything they want including taking on international spy missions. Despite his happy marriage, Hao still suffers from loneliness and low self-esteem due to a lifetime of being looked down and on belittled, unable to make friends because of prevalent social stigma towards those on the heavier side. The solution, however, is not a makeover or a crash diet but a gradual process towards Hao regaining his sense of self worth and realising he has plenty to offer the world despite what anyone else might say. Similarly J, who experienced rapid weight gain after a life threatening injury and also suffers from narcolepsy, proves that he is still able to do his job even if he benefits from having a partner around when he randomly falls asleep at inopportune moments.

Fat Buddies isn’t claiming to be high art and there is certainly enough of the low humour the title implies to keep those enticed by the poster happy enough, but there is also genuine heart in its odd couple buddy comedy as the two similarly under-appreciated big guys bond in their shared desire to reclaim their sense of dignity and refuse to be shamed or belittled just because of their size (even if they are otherwise quite bumbling and inefficient in their mission). Strangely uplifting, Fat Buddies is an extremely silly comedy starring two men in fat suits repeatedly bumping into things but like its heroes refuses to be bound by stereotypical conventions and manages to make heartwarming drama out of its admittedly ridiculous premise. 


Fat Buddies is currently on limited release in UK Cinemas.

International trailer (English subtitles)