I have been waiting to see this film from the much adored in these parts Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung for a long time, and it was eager anticipation that I started up the VLC player to try out his latest effort. I am glad to say, I was not disappointed.
or background, suffered a lot of family pressure, has a dead end telemarketing job and is having an affair with one of Hong Kong’s sleaziest married men (Eason Chan). The only thing that seems to keep her going in life is the desire to own a specific apartment – one far outside of her price range, and frankly even her friends call her obsessed about it. Even when she has the opportunity to fulfil that dream, it is taken away from her, and she snaps, embarking on a night of escalating murder.
I am not sure if the above synopsis actually clues you in to what this film is. It is part dark and gritty social satire about the housing situation in Hong Kong, and part Slasher movie. I don’t know of many Hong Kong slasher films, the Asian horror genre seems to have other preoccupations (Ghosts, Long Haired Girls and currently in Japan, wild and crazy splatter with girls in Bikinis). The implementation of this one is pretty good.
The film eschews the normal conventions of the Slasher film. Firstly, it places the perpetrator front and centre. Cheng Li-sheung is the lead character, and this is her story. The story is structured in a somewhat unusual way for this type of film – instead of starting slow and building up to the night of terror, we alternate between Cheng Li-sheung’s past and the gory details of the night of terror. It’s an interesting way of structuring the film, as it means that the horror sections are a constant throughout the film. It does also mean that the horror is always visceral, we don’t get an awful lot of in-scene tension and build up.
And the gore is graphic. Whilst it is usually done with a tongue in the directors cheek, this is not a film for the faint-hearted – eyeballs get stabbed out, entrails are spilled. But the director does take pains to coat the graphic scenes with a little humour – I enjoyed one dying man’s attempt at a final cigarette. Cheng Li-sheung is not a superhuman – her victims fight back and she gets hurt in the process. Killing someone is a messy business. Another delightful touch was to turn the convention of the killer’s sudden late return from the dead to one of the victims.
Josie Ho is utterly superb. She is focused when she needs to be, but there are scenes where she really gets to show her acting chops – I defy you not to feel her pain at her Mother’s funeral, or when she takes the hard decision to aid in her sick father’s death.
Style-wise this is classic Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung – the camerawork is accomplished, but still voyeuristic. I love watching his films for this reason, you are becoming a spy in the lives of others. There are loads of clever touches – often we see Ho via a series of mirrors, displaying her fracturing psyche. At other times we see her revulsion to smoke (which we find out later was part of the cause of her Fathers illness). We even get a disturbingly cute scene where the childhood Ho is encouraged to swear. You could strip away the gore elements, and still get a moving and accomplished movie.
Even the end makes for something special, where it does not end how you expect, but even those who do get out alive are going to be punished because of the world’s economy meltdown.
Now, reading around on the Internet, I see a lot of somewhat mixed reviews. It is not entirely the case, but I see a lot of drama fans disturbed by the gore aspects, and splatter fans unhappy about the drama aspects. I can see these criticism, but for me it all worked together to generate a fantastic experience. All I worry about is if this is going to be a DVD that I will come back to again and again? It is not flawless, as it is possibly a little too depressing (I can’t think of any really likeable characters, and there is a sense that all the victims are the complete innocents here). However, this is one to get the highest of recommendations, and will certainly be on my film of the year Top Ten.