The Bride Who Has Returned From Hell is an entertaining mystery drama with many interesting elements, but that leans a bit too heavily on its influences.
The Bride Who Has Returned From Hell, which will be shown as part of the Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh from September 18th to the 27th, is Hsin Chi’s adaptation of the 1960 novel “Mistress of Mellyn” by Victoria Holt. After losing her sister in a peculiar boating accident, Bei Sui-mi (Jin Mei) decides to come to Taiwan and investigate, to try and find out the truth about these odd circumstances. By changing her identity and posing as a tutor for her niece, she is able to implant herself within the family of her late sibling, , giving her just the edge she believes she needs… only, she doesn’t realize that there is far more trouble brewing around her than she originally anticipated, not only within the family she embedded herself into, but in the community around her. She finds herself fighting for her own life as the locals mysteriously perish at the hands of an unknown source; she attempts to repair the relationship between her niece and her brother-in-law, and she also manages to get stuck in a whirlwind of romance.
It’s very difficult to put The Bride Who Has Returned From Hell in a box. It’s a film that doesn’t exactly stick to one genre, bouncing from comedy to thriller, and even implementing some horror elements, and that doesn’t hold back when it comes to its experimentalism. It certainly knows it’s not meant to be taken all that seriously, and often embraces just how cheesy it can be. It wears its influences on its sleeve, Hitchcock to Bond, going as far as implementing the exact scores from the films it is referencing. These nods both work in the film’s favor at some points and add to the charm seeping from it, and, in others, they seem a bit senseless.
While it is admittedly very fun with lots to like, it also loses a bit of traction towards the end. The Bride Who Has Returned From Hell attempts to cram a lot into its two hour runtime, almost too much. There are plot elements and big twists never really delved into, leaving the viewer to wonder what more could’ve been done with this story.
This can also be said about the social aspects, which are the film’s main selling point. At the center, it’s a film about a woman trying to make it in a man’s world, but it never really feels like the movie ever really goes into these themes all that much. It also confusingly puts many female characters against each other, and, for something that wants so badly to be empowering, it’s not exactly a gleaming example of feminism. The romance also leaves a bit of a conflicted feeling in the viewer: yet again, the film handles women in a way that is supposed to be liberating for the audience, but romance is only used as the sole means for the main female character to be able to reconcile with her emotions, and to realize the abuse she’s endured in the world. To put it simply, the best parts of The Bride Who Has Returned From Hell are not the parts that its reputation boasts about.
The Bride Who Has Returned From Hell is mainly a melodrama about a woman trying to find out the secrets behind the death of her sister, getting much more than she bargained for, discovering many secrets and cold hard truths, and also battling her inner demons. It may list itself when it tries to be a commentary on patriarchy, but it’s a solid gothic murder mystery. There’s also no denying the creativity in Chi’s way of storytelling. If anything can truly capture the essence of cinema in 1960s Taiwan, it’s this.
The Bride Who Has Returned From Hell was screened digitally from 18th-27th September as part of the Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh.