Starring: Renee Liu Ruo-ying, Leon Lai Ming, Fan Bingbing Director: Teng Huatao Category: IIA (Putonghua) This vapid ghost story is one of the first overtly superstitious tales to be passed by censors on the mainland. The third feature by Beijing Film Academy graduate Teng Huatao, The Matrimony is loaded with surface glitter (aided immeasurably by Mark Lee Ping-bing's atmospheric cinematography), but is woefully deficient in bringing together the elements necessary for a credible foray into the world beyond. The screenplay, by Zhang Jialu and Yang Qianling, is adequate in its broad outline, but crumbles when it comes to riveting drama or edge-of-your-seat thrills. Set in a generic pre-Communist-era Shanghai, the tragic love triangle of filmmaker Shen Junchu (Leon Lai), his dead fiancee Xu Manli (Fan Bingbing, right) and present wife Sansan (Rene Liu) is an insipid collection of cliches from the horror-romance genre. The film begins with the death of radio broadcaster Manli and the marriage, a year later, of Junchu and Sansan. It's not long before the bride feels there's another presence in their cavernous mansion, situated in the middle of a forest, yet seemingly seconds from central Shanghai. Manli is back, and the only question is whether she's a kind-hearted spook or a horribly evil spirit. But it's difficult to care because the three leads display so little personality that, alive or dead, they're already zombies. Sure, there are some semi-scary moments, but these are mostly teases in which the audience is cued to be frightened by Lee Xinyun's laughably gothic score. The dialogue (in Putonghua with Chinese and English subtitles) is full of corny lines, the most toe-curling example being a gooey love message taped by Manli on a reel-to-reel recorder. And that tape recorder is just one of many historical inconsistencies in the film. Production designer Feng Ligang came up with many antique props, but they belong to so many different periods you just can't pinpoint when the story takes place. The tape recorder indicates post-second world war, but the radio station's phonographs date from the first world war, and Dora Ng Lei-lo's fashions and hairstyles romp through the decades of republican China. This vagueness typifies the story and characterisations. Lai's acting is a blank slate that has served him well when backed up by the superior direction and scripts of Comrades: Almost a Love Story (1996) and Three (2002), but which in The Matrimony leaves him bland. The female leads are given more opportunity to shine, although hardly enough to make their roles credible or memorable. The most interesting performances belong to supporting players Zheng Yuzhi, as Junchu's elderly mother, and Xu Songzi, who hams it up as sinister housekeeper Rongma. She initially displays a Mrs Danvers-type antagonism to Sansan, and one wishes the script had borrowed more liberally from the Daphne du Maurier tale Rebecca. Junchu gets it right when he awakens the dozing Sansan at a movie premiere to tell her: 'This picture is better asleep than awake.' He should have been a film critic.