Invitation Only

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I am on a little mission to clear the decks of some films I have had laying around for a couple of years, which for various random reasons I have either never gotten around to, or maybe there are more personal reasons for avoiding.  This one falls very much into the first category, and frankly it is because the reviews are bad to middling.  Billed as Taiwan’s first Slasher flick, I decided I needed a bit of mindless horror in my life.  Not only that, but aside from “Dream Home” and a few CATIII Hong Kong attempts, this really is a sub-genre that simply does not get much airtime in Asian Cinema.  My guess is that there is so much Western content available, and it’s simply not in their historical oeuvre, that it just is not something that easily works culturally.  But, I set expectations to low, and with my mind slightly open, maybe it can surprise?

Invitation Only”  is mostly the tale of High School dropout Wade (Bryant Chang), who seems to work a a chauffer for the very rich Mr Yang (Jerry Huang).  Wade is besotted by model de jour Dana (Maria Osawa), and is somewhat shocked to catch his employer having sex in the back of the car one day.  Initially peeved, Yang seems to think better of it all, and gives Wade an invite to a very exclusive party that he says he cannot attend, helping him with a cover story about Wade being his cousin.  Wade reluctantly agrees, though his reluctance is quickly neutered when he gets to the Party, which is frequented by Taiwan’s rich set, along with a bevy of beautiful and interested girls.  He wins big at the Roulette table, and doesn’t say no when Dana appears, seduces and ends up in bed with him.  Maybe the guy has caught a break?  Sadly, this is not the case, as Wade and a few other newcomers, including a pretty young girl called Hitomi (Julianne Chu) are ushered away to receive the other part of the invite – the promise to make a dream come true!  Wade has asked for a top of the range sports car, and is shocked to actually be given it.  Then, everything changes, as a series of hidden video tapes expose to them all that each and every one has been invited under false pretences – they are all actually much lower on the social strata.  And then the purpose of the party is revealed – they are going to be stalked and captured, then tortured to death on stage.  Can Wade and the rather resourceful Hitomi escape these blood thirsty group of millionaires?

I think the phrase for this one is Curate’s Egg.  The opening sequence that includes one of those parties that seems to be solely frequented by incredibly hot Asian lesbians (that phrase should ensure some google hits), and ending up with the tense Handbag sequence that informs the poster for the film, works well as a tense and icky set piece, but actually has nothing to do with the rest of the film (it certainly does not tally up with the reasonings behind all the later unpleasantness).  Then we get a really odd half hour, which is mostly about getting our characters on the chessboard, but is populated by a series of strange cameos by Maria Osawa, culminating in her getting her breasts out, simulating sex and meeting her maker.  Again, it doesn’t really work so well in the context of the story, and is nothing more than an excuse to attract the legions of fans of everyone’s favourite Eurasian Japanese AV starlet.  The final hour is really about Wade and Hitomi attempting to escape, punctuated by what I can only describe as torture porn.

It is clear that Director Kevin Ko is very influenced by those who went before, homaging the work of John Carpenter and Lucio Fulci.  But what he is going for mostly is that Torture Porn feel, aping the unpleasantness seen in films like “Saw” and “Hostel”.  And whilst it works as disturbing spectacle, personally I find it overly distasteful and unrewarding.  If you like that kind of thing, then there are a couple of scenes that might interest you.  On the whole though, the slasher/horror aspects are nothing more than reasonably well done.  I do question what the idea of also torturing a Cockroach and a Mouse are though.

Acting on the whole is TV good at best.  People are one dimensional, and scream and gurn as required on cue, but there is little special here.  In fact Brant Chang is especially wooden, and doesn’t have any gravitas.  The exception is Julianne Chu, who does bring something extra, aided by the fact her character is actually rather resourceful, and isn’t completely a victim.

I have a feeling that the film makers thought they were being a lot cleverer than the final product turned out.  There is obviously a social commentary going on here, about the division of Taiwanese society as regards to the haves and the have-nots.  But it only really works when it has a consistent approach.  The deaths of the opening scene girl and Dana have no link to this, and some of the other characters who are targeted seem to have done nothing wrong.  This is especially true of Hitomi, whom I can’t really see any real justification.

It also is guilty of some terrible dialogue, including a new nadir in scripting for me.  “Is that a door?” one character says to another.  They are standing 10 inches away from it, and it certainly looks and acts like a door.  A locked one yes.  But a door nonetheless.  And it utterly fails to use up some of the actually interesting ideas, specifically that of these “guests” having wishes fulfilled.  Whilst it does give a reason to fit in the worlds shortest car chase, potentially fun ideas like Hitomi’s desire to be reunited with a favourite childhood teddy bear is simply forgotten about.

It really is a pretty average film at best.  But being unusually fair, it does provide some shocks, some tension and some gore.  For being able to do what it says on the tin, it gets the mildest of recommendation.  But it is badly put together, inconsistent with the interesting central idea, and the fact that everything is set up for a sequel that never happened?  Well that should tell you everything!

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