Determined Spirits focuses on a mysterious woman named Ming Lee (Diana Rumjahn), who has discovered that she’s been cursed by an evil spirit. According to ancient Chinese mythology, the number 4 written next to a person’s name on a white sheet of paper is bad luck, and MIng Lee has indeed found her name written as such. Exactly why has this happened to her and what can she do to stop this curse? The answers seem to be held by her mother, who MIng Lee is searching for. In the meantime, she finds herself stalked by evil spirits and must use magic (I think) to protect herself.
Into the Light continues Ming Lee’s tale, as she is now on a mission to find some answers in a diary that once belonged to her mother. Ming Lee’s search brings her to a building that might indeed give her some answers; however, Ming Lee is forced to face more evil spirits that look to prevent her from doing so. Will Ming Lee be able to succeed in her journey, or will these evil forces prevent her from finding the answers she seeks?
Written and directed by Diana Rumjahn, Determined Spirits and Into the Light are short films that are a little difficult to comprehend. One reason for this is likely due to me not being familiar with Chinese culture enough to understand some of what Ming Lee is going through and what she is doing to combat the evil that she is facing. Another reason for my lack of being able to truly grasp what is happening within this story is the fact that it’s really very strange.
Both shorts lack a traditional narrative and have this subdued psychedelic quality about them. MIng Lee’s journey feels like it could be a nightmare; a disturbed dream filled with bizarre sounds and imagery, made all the more disorienting by strange voice overs that are used instead of traditional character dialogue. Ming Lee seems to be surrounded by spirits and ghosts in a way where the line between reality and “the other side” are blurred, and this is reflected in Rumjahn’s vision.
The abnormal way in which these two shorts are presented add to my confusion about Ming Lee’s story, which makes me confused as to how I should feel about it as a piece of cinema. How do I judge a movie that I don’t fully understand? What I can confidently say about both Determined Spirits and Into the Light is they are low-budgeted in a fashion that reminds me of an experimental student film. The way they are shot and some of the editing is rudimentary, and the acting, specifically from Rumjahn, is amateurish in Into the Light. Though, her performance very well could be purposeful as to add the overall strangeness of the story.
Regardless, the low-budget somehow fits in with the dreamlike quality that the two films exude, and whether or not I was a little lost by the story, I applaud Rumjahn for putting so much work into something she clearly has a passion for. Determined Spirits and Into the Light is her attempt to create horror that is deep and imaginative, which is something I can appreciate.
I feel pretty confident in saying that Determined Spirits and Into the Light aren’t the last we will see of Ming Lee, as her journey has not ended (or at least I don’t think it has), so if and when Rumjahn follows up with another short, I will take a look at it. Alternatively, neither Determined Spirits or Into the Light are available for public consumption, but when that changes, you will be the first to know.