The Ghost Bride stars Kim Chiu as Mayen, a young woman who comes from a family of Kaoka Opera performers in Binondo. With demand for their performances dwindling, her father struggles to keep the business afloat. And when her father is struck with illness, it falls to Mayen to try to do something about it. It just so happens that a mysterious woman named Angie Lao (Alice Dixson) has approached her with a strange proposition: to be part of an ancient tradition known as a ghost wedding. It is explained that Mayen would be married to a long dead bachelor, and in exchange for her tending to a grave and making the proper offerings, she would receive a generous payment.
Things aren’t quite what they seem, of course, and Mayen encounters a series of supernatural, often violent consequences. This is another horror movie from Chito Roño that uses the aesthetics of Filipino-Chinese Otherness and ancient Chinese folklore as the main source of its terror. And taken purely as spectacle, the film is solidly crafted and fairly entertaining. But I must speak here now personally as a person of Chinese descent: this film gets problematic. It functions almost entirely on stereotypes, unable to conceive of a Filipino-Chinese identity separate from its pure Otherness.
The easiest thing one could point to is Alice Dixson and her performance as the film’s primary antagonist, Angie Lao. The choice was made there to have her speak in pidgin Tagalog and English, even though it wouldn’t really make a difference if she just spoke like a normal modern Filipino-Chinese person. The film keeps creating unnecessary landmines for itself, seemingly committed to making the Filipino-Chinese community at large seem completely insular and diabolically mystical for the sake of delivering its horror tropes. It’s just not okay anymore.
Putting all that aside, the film is reasonably entertaining, though not particularly effective as a horror movie. It works better if one thinks of it as a strange, supernatural adventure movie, its main goal to offer up spectacle rather than scares. The reliance on VFX in depicting the main ghostly threat numbs some of the creepiness, the application of the technology not nearly as smooth as it could be. Its better scares tend to be simple and practical, but those are far and few in between. But taken as an adventure, the film takes its heroines to some pretty strange places, and has her directly combatting the evils in surprisingly physical ways.
The film generally overdoes it with the VFX. A lot of it still looks clunky, like the artists could have used another two or three months to really make it all look good. But they get the idea across. Kim Chiu proves to be a pretty credible heroine overall, the young actress able to sell the determination of the character through her strange, convoluted plight. Things get murkier in the supporting cast, though. Again, we must make mention of Alice Dixson, who really should just have outright refused to do the borderline offensive accent. But she isn’t the only one in the cast who takes on that manner of speaking.
The Ghost Bride can be pretty fun, if you manage to get over the genuinely awful accents. As a Filipino-Chinese person, it’s harder for me to separate those things, the film as a whole working so hard to make me feel like an Other. It is easy enough to recognize the craft that went into it, and the traces of cleverness that went into the screenplay. But the choices it makes feel exploitative, and they make me uncomfortable. Perhaps I would struggle less if there were more depictions of Filipino-Chinese life in our cinema, ones where characters didn’t have to fend off ancient Chinese evils or speak in pidgin Tagalog. But there aren’t, so this film and its exaggerated Otherness becomes something much more sinister.