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Sally Victoria Benson,
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William Wai-Ting Chan,
A half-good attempt at revitalising the dormant horror genre in Hong Kong cinema
It's true- as the movie's poster states, there hasn't been a horror movie from Hong Kong in a while. Nonetheless, this dual effort from directors Wong Jing and Patrick Kong to revitalise the genre is only a half-hearted one- and we mean that literally, as this anthology of two horror stories 'Travel' and 'Classroom' from Kong and Wong respectively is only half-good.
The better half is surprisingly Patrick Kong's 'Travel', the story of four friends and their encounter with their recently deceased travel companion Bobo's (Chrissie Chau) lover Karl (Him Law) at her funeral. The storytelling is notably Kong's, and those familiar with his frequent musings on love in 'L for Love, L for Lies', 'Marriage with a Liar' and 'Love is the Only Answer' will certainly recognise his oft-used techniques of perspective and flashbacks.
The latter is used recurrently to cut between their fawning over Karl at Bobo's funeral and their nature of their acquaintance with Bobo during a trip to Thailand. Kong's scriptwriting here is sharp and satirical, taking frequent jabs at recent Hong Kong celebrity gossip (mostly around TVB actor Raymond Lam) as well as the perennial rivalry between local television stations ATV and TVB. Understandably, these jokes will be lost on those unfamiliar with the local entertainment scene in Hong Kong, but they are witty and entertaining for the initiated.
Kong is also well-served by an energetic quartet in Charmaine Fong, Jacqeuline Chong, Harriet Yeung and Rose Chan, all of whom play Bobo's travel buddies. Their outright flirtings with a handsome cop Jack (Timmy Hung) on the same tour, as well as their quick and spirited delivery of Kong's dialogue, are hilarious. They also share great chemistry with one another, especially when bouncing lines off each other. Next to them however, Kong regulars Chrissie and Him pale in comparison, partly also because the nature of their roles afford less room for mirth.
Keeping with genre conventions, Kong injects a twist at the end, which plays deftly with his favourite practice of having multiple perspectives. Here, the story told from Bobo's point of view reveals much more, and wraps up the mystery nicely. As for the horror, well there is admittedly little that is scary, and what passes for it is merely a nice sense of intrigue. Still, Kong is forgiven for creating a well-paced and unexpectedly entertaining piece of cinema.
The same however cannot be said of Wong Jing's own 'Classroom'. Working off a threadbare story of a substitute teacher Miss Yip (Jennifer Tse) whose class of unruly students may or may not be ghosts, Jing seems to be genuinely uninspired to deliver a compelling story or any solid thrills. Instead, his short lurches unevenly between various unconvincing characters such as an abusive ex-boyfriend Chung (Pakho Chow), a quiet loner Don-Don (Kimmy Tong) and (lo-and-behold) a Christian minister who tells Yip to 'put her faith in God'.
Assembled in slipdash fashion, the sloppiness shouldn't be a surprise to those who have followed Wong Jing's numerous works through the years- but while this may not be his worst, there is practically nothing redeeming about it. His feeble attempts at horror consists of bad makeup, moving toilet doors, and flying exhaust blades- none of which passes for anything other than cheesy. Even the twist at the end comes off perfunctory, and horror aficionados should have no problem guessing it from a mile away.
Given the disparity in quality between the two, it probably would have been better for Wong Jing to have just left the film up to Patrick Kong, instead of personally taking a stab at a genre that he has little flair for. It also stands to reason that the inspired prologue that sees a bunch of paper dolls coming to life in a funeral parlour and slating the opening of either story probably came from Kong.
So like we said at the start, this latest stab at breathing life into a now-dormant genre in Hong Kong cinema is only half-successful. Watch it only if you're nostalgic for the campy horror films of yesteryear- otherwise, those looking for any real chills will probably find the air- conditioning in the cinema hall more expedient.
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