Directed by Hoh Chi-Hang and starring Michael Tao, Fanny Yuan and Wayne Lai, this X-Files inspired thriller has absolutely nothing to do with the Herman Yau directed series of Category III horror movies that starred Anthony Wong.
The story focuses on a pair of Hong Kong police officers named Sam and Judy (Lai and Yuan) who throw in the towel and resign from the force so that they can go off and start their own private detective agency. Why would they want to branch out on their own? So that they can focus in on the one area where they excel that the normal police force won't go – the paranormal. Sam's wanted to start looking into the weird and mysterious world and his superiors have always reeled him back in when he's tried to travel down that mystical path. While it might sound difficult to get a business like this up and running, thankfully they have a mysterious and very wealthy benefactor (Tao) who stands in the shadows, never takes off his sunglasses, and who chain smokes. Our cops name their operation Sky Eye Lab, and they open the doors for business.
So with Sky Eye Lab ready to roll, it doesn't take long before the strange cases start coming in – sort of. Someone has left a case with some details inside and a whole pile of cash to cover their expenses and then some. Armed with only the simplest of details, our intrepid investigators have to tackle a doozy of a mystery, as it appears that some girls have been disappearing in the area. While at first this might sound like a job for the regular police department to handle, when they start scratching below the surface to see what they can find it turns out that this is all tied into a cult of devil worshippers who have ties to the disappearances and a taste for ritualistic suicide attempts. To complicate matters even more, there are ties to possible aliens and some sort of doomsday plot!
If the plot sounds like an episode of The X-Files that would be because this movie borrows from that series pretty liberally, with a little bit of Men In Black and Millenium thrown in for good measure. Why this movie is tagged with the Untold Story banner is a good question, it's possible that the producers were trying to cash in on the popularity of the twisted Herman Yau films, but they're about as opposite as you can get and the only thing that they have in common is the inclusion of some police procedural scenes. Originality isn't one of this movie's strong points.
Despite the fact that it more or less copies what has come before it and puts it in Hong Kong instead of North America, Sudden Vanished (an awkward title) is still an entertaining movie, at least on a superfluous level. The leads are fun and Tao is really good as the mysterious 'smoking man' character who knows more than his employees really realize. There's a bit of hamminess to some of the performances but it fits in with the tone of the story in that the script throws in pretty much everything it can and by doing so shoots believability out the window anyway.
The direction is odd in that the pacing jumps, then stalls, then jumps again. The middle of the movie does tend to drag a bit but by the time the finale rolls around there's enough going on from so many different angles that you can't help but at least want to know how it is all going to end. The conclusion does set up the series as a continuing effort, for better or worse, and there is potential here for better entries to be made with the same characters should a few tweaks be made to the premise.
Though the image isn't anamorphic it is letterboxed at roughly 1.85.1 and while it's hardly reference quality, it's watchable, but that's where the praise ends. There are way too many mpeg compression artifacts present in the darker spots throughout the movie and it looks like the picture was shot on a digital video camera. There is some edge enhancement and some aliasing but color reproduction is handled respectably well and skin tones look fine. Hardly a perfect effort, and it will suffice but only because it has to.
Audio options are provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks in the film's original Cantonese language as well as in a Mandarin dub. Burned in subtitles come in both English and Chinese at the same time. Audio quality is alright, even if the English subtitles contain some odd typos and strange phrases here and there. There are a few nice instances of channel separation that add to the fun and the levels are well balanced ensuring that the performers don't get buried by the sound effects or the score.
Aside from menus and chapter selection, there's nothing else included on this release except a trailer.
The presentation leaves a little to be desired, what with the mediocre transfer and the obvious lack of extra features, but The Untold Story – Sudden Vanished is a reasonably entertaining movie even if it rips off the X-Files pretty blatantly. It's not a classic, but it's a fun time killer that's worth a rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.