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Review of “Keening Woman” (2013) directed by Rita Hui.
Review of "Keening Woman" (2013) directed by Rita Hui.

Review of “Keening Woman” (2013) directed by Rita Hui.

Keening women offer services that are employed in funerals, but do not belong to any religious doctrine, despite their ritualistic form. Keening women need to know the life stories of the deceased so that they can wail wholeheartedly during their ceremony, in a procedure that can also involve other people. Rita Hui bases her movie on one of those women, presenting a film that could be described as an art-house ghost story, but in essence, is so much more.

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The woman mentioned earlier is Cotton. During a ceremony at the funeral parlor where she works, she starts to feel a separation between her body and consciousness. This feeling intensifies after she encounters a spirit named Ling. As the two characters form a unique bond, Cotton’s body and consciousness become detached, causing her to behave in ways that her disabled boyfriend and psychiatrist cannot understand. This leads her on a surreal journey through Luo Feng Mountain, a rocky beach, and into the world of Chinese ink painting, where the realms of the living and spirits intersect.

Rita Hui is the director of an authentic independent film, which captures the essence of a visual experience rather than a logical one. While some elements of traditional film genres are present, the overall feel of the movie is that of an abstract and surrealistic tale, blurring the lines between reality, fantasy, and religion. The inclusion of recurring texts on screen further emphasizes the religious themes, exploring concepts such as humans, deities, and ghosts. The relationships between Cotton, her boyfriend Hang, and her psychiatrist add a touch of realism to the story, but ultimately serve as a pathway to the surrealistic elements, particularly through shared dreams and the psychiatrist’s spiritual connection to Chinese ink painting.

The appearance of the film can also be seen as ritualistic, as we frequently witness Cotton engaging in keening, essentially singing in a high-pitched tone. Simultaneously, there is a strong sensuality present, particularly in the physical interactions between Ling and Cotton, which contributes another dimension to the overall appearance of the film.

Nubbie Tsoi’s meticulous cinematography brings all the elements together beautifully, effectively conveying Rita Hui’s complex concepts on screen. Wai Nap Wong’s editing is also commendable, but in my opinion, a few more cuts, especially in the slow-motion forest scenes, could improve the film and reduce its 110-minute runtime, as it can become challenging to keep up with the plot.

The stunning Michelle Wai portrays Cotton and delivers an exceptional performance, capturing the complex emotions of inner turmoil and spiritual fulfillment. Similarly, Mitsu Hana shines in her silent role as Ling, while Ryan Lui impresses with his eloquent and dramatic portrayal of Hang.

This movie may not appeal to everyone because of its unconventional storytelling and artistic style. However, there are many moments of beauty and creativity that will satisfy viewers seeking something beyond the mainstream.