Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei
Chinese Title: Haizi Shu
Director: Daisy Chan
Cast: Francis Ng, Zoe Tay, Phyllis Quek, Tse Kwan-Ho
Genre: Drama Mystery
Year Released: 2001
Runtime: 98 min
Rating: ½ star (out of four stars)
The Tree is yet another local production, and this was supposed to be the one that made the difference - directed by Daisy Chan, it stars the Queen of Caldecott Hill herself, Zoe Tay, in a role as far removed from her usual glamourous self as imaginable. She plays a long-suffering mother of a young boy, and throughout the entire film, we see Zoe assume the role of a leaky faucet, wearing (gasp!) no makeup or pretty clothes at all. Its meant to be a movie that blends suspense, melodrama and romance together, but the end results are lumpy and unsatisfying. I do want to support local productions, but I also have a low threshold for poor movies. Although there are some redeeming qualities to be found in The Tree, they arent enough to make up for the flaws that can be observed in the movie.
Guo Meifeng (Zoe Tay) is the mother of a young boy, whose pet name is Popiah (Deng Maohui). Ever since his father Wenguang (Tse Kwan Ho) left five years ago, Popiah has been waiting for his return, his only companion and friend being a large tree. Convinced that Wenguang is not returning to the family, Meifeng marries Zixiong (Edmund Tay), a man that hides a terrible secret - he is a pedophile. When Zixiong dies mysteriously, all the evidence points to Meifeng being the perpetrator. However, Popiah is witness to his stepfathers death, and policewoman Jiang Liangxing (Phyllis Quek) tries to coax the truth out of him.
Meanwhile, the pathologist assigned to the case, Wu Chongzhe (Francis Ng), is convinced of Meifengs innocence, and begins his own investigation into the death of Zixiong. He becomes friends with both Meifeng and Popiah, and gradually finds out more about them as he gains their trust. However, as he comes closer to discovering the truth behind Zixiongs death, Chongzhe comes down with the same affliction that may have caused his death. He struggles to come to terms with his imminent demise, affecting both his relationships with his father and his girlfriend. On the other side, fresh information arises about Wenguangs disappearance, and Meifeng is again suspected of his murder. However, one common element exists amongst these disparate plot lines - the tree, and the possibility that there is more to the tree than meets the eye.
Zoe Tay displays her acting chops in this film, her debut film appearance, and she is clearly one of the better actors in the whole movie. Wearing neither makeup nor glamourous outfits, Zoe looks the role of a dowdy housewife, and her performance is sufficiently convincing. The audience also gets to find out how well she can cry, as she is teary-eyed in almost every scene she appears in. The rest of the cast is, unfortunately, not as impressive. Francis Ng sleepwalks throughout the entire movie, and has no chemistry with any of the characters he interacts with. Any scene that features him as the central character is generally wooden and uninvolving, and I found myself yawning more than once in this rather short movie. Some reviewers have praised Deng Maohui as a good child actor, but I beg to differ - his performance rubbed me the wrong way, and I was hugely irritated by his whining throughout the film. Rubbing your eyes vigorously while screaming and crying does not constitute good acting.
All these flaws can be forgiven if the plot is interesting, but again, The Tree fails to impress in this category. The plot is rife with loopholes and implausibilities, and is largely predictable and hackneyed. The Tree tries too hard to include a little bit of every major genre, and in the end it works against the films favours. It cant make up its mind to be a thriller, a family drama, a romance, or a horror flick, and in the end every element is half-baked and does not really blend well with each other. Whats worse is the astoundingly bad computer graphics employed in the film, the poorly spoken Chinese, the lackluster soundtrack, and the maddening number of shots devoted to the tree - there was one shot of the tree at least every five minutes. Yes, the movie is titled The Tree, but did they have to get so literal?
Final Word: Resembles a TV movie more than a movie proper. I watched The Tree for free, and would advise anyone not to pay good money to watch it. The only good thing in it is Zoe Tay, and that really isnt enough - not even for a local production.