[Mild Spoilers Ahead]
It’s so frustrating at times.
It’s like putting together a puzzle and discovering that the one piece you needed is inexplicably missing. Only in the case of The Cases of Disappearances, it’s a lot more than just one piece.
I mean, it gets off to such a great start, with a period train going through the mountains, a magician, a dwarf, and a sudden burst of violence as a group of masked men rob the train…
Only for a horrible creature to burst into the train and slaughter most of the people aboard, with a horrible disease causing the skin on the bodies of the wounded to rot.
And then we end up in a permanently, fog-shrouded village, where a prominent man has just died of a strange disease, and they are going to burn his body because of the deal the town made with the Dragon King of the town well long ago.
Only his body is covered with cuts as if some creature attacked him, and his adopted nephew refuses to burn him because he wants the truth.
And the next thing you know, the creature is on the loose, killing villagers.
Meanwhile, a pair of detectives are on the case of the many mysterious creature attacks which have been plaguing the region, and before long they’ve teamed up with the boy and his adoptive sister.
But there is a terrible secret behind it all, which has something to do with the ancient plague that nearly wiped out Mist Village…
So you may be asking why this is so frustrating: after all, this is a tense, suspenseful film, with some solid action sequences, a great look (even if they seem to have borrowed the absurdly overactive fog machine used in The Slime People), and an interesting mystery involving medical experimentation, underground laboratories and a sinister secret society.
And, no, it isn’t the fact that nearly every shot in the film is filled with mist. It is a bit overdone at times, but it gives it all a great creepy look, even during the dark and sinister descent into the mist-filled depths…
Of a big hospital?…
Well, it still looks weird and atmospheric, which is what matters. And, after all, we saw a far more modern hospital filled with mist in Parasite Eve (1997).
The real problem is one I keep having the with so many of these Chinese made films that show up on Youku’s Youtube channel. As good as it looks, as promising as the story is, something vital has been left out.
Well, let’s be honest, more than just something. Lots of somethings. I won’t try to give you a full version here, but I’ll point out some of the highlights:
For starters, consider the main villain. I went back and checked on this: when we finally encounter him, some of the characters recognize him and call him by name. And it is true that we did actually see him earlier in the proceedings.
Only he was in the hallway, walking past, and you never got a good look at his face, nor was his name actually mentioned.
He might have got a mention or two in the dialogue, but we are still left with a sinister mad scientist who barely shows up in the story at all, until he’s finally needed.
While we learn that the secret society can somehow control the monster, and we even hear them calling the things with a sad flute note, we never learn how they control the beast or how it came under their power.
And that is a very important issue, if they’re using the beast to terrorize the locals and help them carry out their plan.
Which is also frustratring.
But, worst of all, we never, ever learn where in the world this creature came from in the first place. Is it an unknown wild beast someone has tamed? is it demonic? is it an ordinary wild animal which has been transformed by the disease? is it a product of mad science?
I had a sneaking suspicion for most of the film that those with the disease eventually turned into monsters, in classic horror film style, but as far as I can tell that isn’t true. It’s more like a type of leprosy.
Not that I have any way to be certain as they gave us so little to work with.
And frustrating doesn’t even begin to cover this flub: the creature is at the heart of the story. The cultists (or whatever you want to call them) use it to murder their enemy, and then dominate and control fearful villagers.
But where did it come from? What is it? Was it made or did it just happen?
No one seems to be willing tell us.
And that just keeps happening with these Chinese creature features on Youku. They offer so much, in this case a beautiful and atmospheric film with a great setting, interesting characters, a moderately impressive creature (even if we never get a good look at the thing), and a compelling mystery.
But they just can’t quite pull it off, even though you just can’t imagine how they could get this much right and still create such a mess. Maybe something vital got edited out of the script, or maybe a critical scene or two ended up on the cutting room floor. I don’t know.
All I can say for certain is that this is so frustrating.
Which is where we came in, isn’t it?…