It’s strange to witness a film so visually bewitching and yet so narratively disorganised. Fūng gip (The Secret, Ann Hui, 1979) is such a film: completely beautiful, dark, and unsettling, yet at times incoherent. The Secret is loosely based on a grisly real-life murder, the ‘Double Corpse Murder Case’ which took place in 1970 at Mount Lung Fu, Hong Kong.1 The alleged killer was never convicted due to insanity, and similar themes of madness and psychiatric deterioration reverberate through the film. A title card informs us that the film is a “different account” of the true crime, but even that is perhaps a stretch. Originally, The Secret was only available to western audiences via a heavily deteriorated copy. It was painstakingly restored by the Hong Kong Film Archive in 2019,2 and this version is especially crisp and a feast for the senses.

Everything about The Secret is technically marvellous, from the colour palette to Dick Cho Kin-Nam’s costume design to Man-Yee Lam’s ghostly score. Deep blues, greens and pink-ish reds lend the film a cool and otherworldly feel, and the airy musical leitmotifs send shivers down the spine. The camera is steady, then frenetic, with many scenes being shot from a low angle, or with the subjects slightly out of frame. Shadows, mirrors and close-ups indicate that something in the story is hidden from us, beyond our perception.

Like many of her Hong Kong contemporaries, Ann Hui received her filmic education mostly overseas, having attended London Film School for two years before returning to cut her teeth in the television industry. The Secret is her feature length debut, and it blends European cinematic techniques with an intimate portrait of Hong Kong, Macau and the sensibilities therein. The film opens with a Taoist funeral ceremony, and things only get more haunting from there. Death is central to this story, and the film is marked by Chinese mourning rituals and cultural practices ingrained in the hearts of its characters. In fact, the central deaths of the double-murder victims occur within the first 15 minutes.

The victims are Li Yuen (Angie Chiu Nga-chi) and Yuen Si-cho (Alex Man Chi-leung), discovered strung up in horrific positions, bound in rope and covered in deep red blood. The shots of their twisted bodies, which are so kinetic that you could blink-and-miss-it, are utterly disturbing, and the dispassionate follow-up scenes at the morgue – wherein the corpses are stripped and unceremoniously detangled – are equally stomach-churning. It is not so much the gore of the scenes as it is Hui and Tsan-Feng Yu’s editing, which dizzies us before lurching into the middle of violent imagery. Yuen’s family identify him easily, but Li’s family has a little more trouble, as her face is an unrecognisable mess, and the grandmother is blind anyway. But the grandmother trusts they are indeed faced with Li’s corpse after the detectives hand her a laisee envelope found by the body, containing money that she had gifted Li just the day before. Watching her face crumple in grief is devastating; actor Lai Cho-cho (credited as Li Zhouzhou) is a powerhouse with her quiet mourning and solemn, steadfast love.

From here, we flit between present and past in a series of flashbacks – a narrative technique that was very cutting-edge in Hong Kong at the time as it had seldom been seen before. The editing is gripping with its frantic, unsettled energy, drawing tension by cutting away before something is revealed too much, isolating a character in a dolly-zoom, and lingering on empty spaces and dark alleyways to drive the mounting tension. As night falls, Li’s friend Lin (Sylvia Chang) believes she catches a glimpse of Li, with her distinctive red coat. Things go bump in the night, and Li’s grandmother grows frightened that Li is haunting them, imploring Lin to burn incense and joss paper to send Li’s spirit on her way. The vestiges of the dead, their hauntings and their legacies are woven into the tapestry of The Secret, and yet no true phantom ever appears. This is a decidedly spooky film, even without the concrete presence of ghosts; that we are thoroughly rattled by the implication of the supernatural is enough.

If there is a weakness in the film, it is that it is so technically strong and radically complex in structure that the story is almost an afterthought. Though The Secret is never a dull affair, its conclusion is unsatisfying, even banal. After teasing us so thoroughly with the unseen, the eventually revealed murderer cannot live up to the phantom. The Secret showcases the ordinary social lives of Hong Kong’s people in a way that had seldom been seen onscreen before, and its choice to put women at the centre of the story is especially interesting. Every event in the film is driven by, for and because of the actions of women; the men are merely props in the background. The Secret is impactful for its themes and design alone, so much so that it hardly has need for a narrative – it thrives on pure cinematic wizardry.

Fūng gip/The Secret (1979 Hong Kong 90 minutes)

Prod Co: Unique Films Co, Ltd. Prod: Wu Sau-yee Dir: Ann Hui Scr: Joyce Wang Phot: David Chung Ed: Tsan-Feng Yu Art Dir: Kin-Nam Cho Mus: Man-Yee Lam Cos Des: Dick Cho Kin-Nam

Cast: Sylvia Chang, Angie Chiu Nga-chi, Tsui Siu-keung, Lee Hye-suk, Alex Man Chi-leung, Zhouzhou Li


  1. Mercedes Hutton, “A young Hong Kong couple were murdered in 1970, their suspected killer was never convicted,” South China Morning Post, 18 May 2020 (from archived articles originally published in 1970).
  2. The Secret (Blu-Ray Disc) (Reprint),” Hong Kong Film Archive, last revised August 15, 2023.

About The Author

Faith Everard is an independent film scholar and former radio producer from Melbourne. She has a deep passion for cinema old and new.

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