A dead body, a stack of cash, and two boys speeding away on a motorcycle. Exposition doesn’t get more exciting than that. Those first few captivating moments hook us and the stunning, sprawling shots of the Chinese countryside and the precarious relationships that unfold keep us watching, waiting for the slow but enthralling drama to come to a head.
Ghost in the Mountains tells the story of Lao Liu, the prodigal son returned home to his village after ten years of being gone. He meets old friends, an old lover and even an old teacher who has since become a monk. We learn early on that his old friend, A Jie, is a wanted criminal and as the film progresses, a plot to capitalise on his fugitive state comes to fruition. It’s partly an exquisite portrait of a lonely middle-aged man finally living out lost moments and partly a slow-but-steady suspense mystery, which gives the feature a unique angle.
What viewers don’t realise off the bat is that they’re watching the end of the movie first. Director Yang Heng cleverly disguises this so that when it comes again, we still have a gratifying “ah-ha” moment but we spend the film always ever so slightly on the edge of our seats. The composition of every shot paints a world in which the imposing mountains basically swallow the village, the characters and the action that transpires within. By utilising predominantly wide shots, we rarely get a good look at Lao Liu’s face – a choice that serves to separate any emotional attachment to the characters and keep the audience as stoic observers. We become part of the mountains, impassively watching the situation and swallowing the ghosts left behind.
Ghost in the Mountains is a beautifully clever work, playing on its title in a number of ways to reflect the mood, characters, and action of the film. Just as viewers begin to get comfortable, the plot thickens with tiny tidbits of a reveal, making the slow build up to the full-circle journey all the more satisfying
Ghost in the Mountains does not have a UK release date yet.
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