The Heirloom (2005) - The little lesson that is shared at the beginning of the film is important for understanding this Taiwanese film. It explains that Hsiao Guei (literally "raising child ghosts") A folk practice prevelent in Chinese societies where by dead fetuses are worshiped in urns and fed the blodd of their master. Child ghosts possess great power to bring their master fortune. Someare so powerful they can even kill, but for such dark arts a price must be paid.
James (Jason Chang) returns to Taiwan when he inherits a very large but run down house. Being an architect he is not interested in selling it and instead plans to move in. His girlfriend Yo (Terri Kwan) is a dancer who is thinking about traveling so there is an immediate tension between the two. This is just a red herring though as she decides to stay and move into the house with him. It is a large house and they spend some time exploring. Upstairs is the family shrine a wall lined with the images of the ancestors of James' family. The early scenes of a group of people hanging in the house without explanation is so we know that this house has some sort of ghosts. We don't know the exact connection to James but we know they were probably his former relatives.
So from the definition that we got in the beginning does this mean that someone had it in for his family and used their Hsiao Guei to get them or are they worshiping their own and the price was drastically high. When our main couple has their friends over, Yi-Chen (Yu-chen Chang) and Ah-Tseng (Tender Huang) things start getting strange. After they spend time in the house at midnight the next day Ah-Tseng mysteriously appears in the house under the bed with no memory of how he got there. The scenes of James finding him there was scary and tense as he follows footprints to his location. The same thing happens with Yi-Chen she mysteriously is suddenly in the house at midnight with no memory of how she got there. Director Leste Chen keeps the tension up by cutting in scenes from the past hangings and flashes of a young boy in a blindfold. First time writer Dorian Li's story is a bit confusing but I think part of this is the editing decisions.
What could possibly happen next? Since Ah-Tseng was the first to feel the effects of the house he is the victim as the house apparently not just happy with stealing his memory and bringing him home now decides to hang him with no rope. This involves the police and the head detective Detective Wu has to suspect James since he was the last person with Ah-Tseng. When Det. Wu later shows the effects of having been to the house, that is he comes awake in the house at midnight with no memory of how he got there, then he gets serious. Cameras are installed so they can try to figure out the mystery. That is not the only thing going on though, Yo and Yi-Chen go to look at old newspapers detailing the past deaths in the house. Reports that the victims tried not to sleep because sleeping they would end up in the house.
Det. Wu does his best not to have a repeat performance the second night but unfortunately his cuffing himself to a radiator did not solve the problem as he intended it to. You have to see the scene to really appreciated it. You are probably wondering what any of this has to do with Hsiao Guei? Well that is one of the problems with this film. It winds its way towards the answers but they are slow to come. While we eventually get the full picture of the Yang family, (James is a member) and the fuller story of what happened in the earlier flashback to the group hanging it takes quite a bit of time to get there.
The urns in the attic are discovered and James and Yo have to deal with the deaths of their friends. The discovery of the crazy family story is convoluted and told through multiple flashback scenes. Then they attempt to end the curse but the final twist in the story leaves the viewer on more of a downer note. Overall the movie is enjoyable, the music is effective but it is really low rent as far as the effects. The story may go on a bit longer than you want and the tenuous connections may frustrate some but as a whole it is not bad. The subtitles on the version I had were quick so I hope you can read fast.
Rating (5.4) 5.0 and up are recommended. So Rent it!