Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Reel Asian 2013 Film Review - Tales From The Dark 1

Simon Yam wanted to tell a ghost story but with a Hong Kong feel. He did not want an ultra violent Japanese or Korean horror film. He wanted nice ghosts in his film. The result was Stolen Goods the first of three stories in this feature. The film focuses on the poor people in Hong Kong.  The former British colony is very expensive. The poor have less and less as the cost continue to rise.  The rich have more than enough but continue to want more. Yam represents the rich with a ghosts named Boss Lee who's constant refrain is I'm so full but continues to shove fresh food into his mouth Yam's common man character Kwan lives in an apartment that is only large enough for a single bed. His main companions are two ratty dolls one of which is a ghost that hovers in his space as he rants and raves.

For Simon Yam's first feature he has chosen to discuss the social inequalities in his homeland. The gap continues to grow between the rich and the poor leading a large part of the population to be marginalized. Yam shows that that every growing group may become desperate. They are willing to work hard but may resort to actions that will be noticed by the elite.

The second film A Word in the Palm is more of a comedy than a scary movie. Master Ho (Tony Leung) is a palm reader who has decided to heed the advise of his wife and shut down his shop. The fact that he is able to see ghosts has put a strain on his relationship with his her and his son.  His wife is also not happy with his relationship with Lan (Kelly Chen) the owner of a spiritual crystals store who sports special contacts that reputedly help to see ghosts. On this last day he is visited by a high school swim coach and his wife. Ms. Cheung has recently felt a presence near hear along with the feeling of dampness and the ocean. Master Ho sends them to the crystal store as their case will take some work and he is closing down. Next Fai is visited by the ghost in question a young swimmer on the coaches team Chan Siu-ting. Master Ho and Lan team up to find out about Siu-ting's background to determine the steps needed to lead the spirit into the next world.

The last segment  of the production Jing Zhe is both violent and intense. It centres on a roadside villain basher named Chu (Siu Yam-Yam). Customers come to her street corner operation, provide pictures of the targets of their anger and she hits them with a shoe like tool chanting horrible events and consequence that will befall the target and their family. On occasion customers will feel that Chu is not going far enough and take the tool to beat the pictures themselves. Toward the end of her night a young girl appears requesting her services.  The girl has four targets 3 women and a man. Reluctant at first Chu agrees to see her. The girl gets into a trance like state as she takes the tool and then another item from Chu and beats the targets with increasing frantic pace leading to catastrophic consequences for the targets that appear in real time on screen.

The skills of the makeup team were definitely on display in all three segments of the film. Notable was the work done on the fat ghost in the Simon Yam contribution along with the presentation of the twins. The waterlogged look of Siu-ting in the second feature was very convincing and as were the visual effects on her eyes. The makeup on the girl in the third piece was understated but effective.

Tales From the Dark 1 is a gripping anthology that has powerful themes and pivotal moments. It is not ultra violent the first two features actually have some funny moments and at their peaks barley break into the realm of horror. The Fruit Chan feature is correctly placed as the anchor hitting many of the right horror notes as a delicious revenge piece. The direction is more psychological than psychotic and as an overall work it's a film I can recommend.

*** out of 4.

Tales From The Dark 1 | Simon Yam / Lee Chi-nagi / Fruit Chan | Hong Kong | 2013| 112 minutes.

Hong Kong, Horror, Fantasy, Excess, Gluttony, Poverty, Spirit World, Revenge.

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