The team behind The Tag-along (紅衣小女孩) and The Rope Curse (粽邪) tackle another real-life haunted legend in The Bridge Curse (女鬼橋), with promises of groundbreaking storytelling that will give a new spin to a popular but run-of-the-mill ghost tale.
The film is based on the legend of the haunted bridge at Taichung’s Tunghai University (東海大學), which has been changed to Donghu University (東湖大學) here. It’s one of those standard tales involving a female student who is supposed to meet her lover at the bridge to elope. The lover never shows, and she drowns herself in the lake. The student has haunted the bridge ever since, and it’s said that at midnight, an extra 14th step will appear on the stairs following the bridge, and whoever turns around before reaching the top will disappear.
In 2018, a Tunghai student was livestreaming at the bridge at night when viewers spotted what looked like a female ghost in white behind him and urged him to run for his life, forming the basis for the plot. The opening scene depicts a group of students preparing to livestream themselves walking up the stairs at midnight as a promotion video for a “test of courage” activity for incoming freshmen, and things go awry from the very beginning.
Photo courtesy of atmovies.com
Is the use of annoyingly shaky cell phone footage with live comments what the filmmakers refer to as revolutionary? Thankfully it isn’t, but the problem is that the film just takes way too long to start breaking from the mold to get to the final twist. The first three-quarters of the film follow a typical haunted school formula, with not very frightening jump scares and a generic female ghost that borders on the comical.
The production is (aside from the ghost) refined, making use of atmospheric shifts as well as lighting to set the mood instead of overly relying on special effects, which The Tag-along was criticized for. The acting by the up-and-coming thespians (especially Chang Ning, 張甯, and Vera Yen, 嚴正嵐) is also decent across the board. There are some subplots such as a love triangle and a female journalist investigating supernatural events, but one’s patience starts wearing thin as the film drags on.
Then things suddenly get interesting in the last 20 minutes, but everything happens so quickly with all the tantalizing, mind-bending bits jammed into the final sequences that it’s hard to keep up with the sudden downpour of revelations. No wonder many people watched the movie twice to fully understand it.
Director Lester Shih’s (奚岳隆) ability is evident in his feature debut as he skillfully utilizes various devices to conceal the secret to the very end, while dropping many subtle hints that will make sense much later — but unfortunately at the expense of the first half. This last part should have been drawn out a lot more, perhaps with the journalist playing a larger role, making the film more of a trippy, horror-tinged mystery thriller instead.
The Bridge Curse is part of what seems to be a movement in the past five years or so to make the public aware of supernatural Taiwanese folk tales, and given its box office success (NT$23 million over the 228 Peace Memorial Day long weekend), the interest is definitely there. The film has the right elements, ideas and technical capabilities, and its final twist definitely will get people talking — it just needs better structuring and could be much scarier.
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