What happens when you get a first time director who decides to try and channel an old school sensibility Hong Kong horror Movie, with a couple of genuine actors, some annoying contemporary c-listers, a couple of “ripped from the headlines” news stories for inspiration, name it after a radio talk show, confuses everything with way too much story and and a confusing timeline, and still have time to both Kowtow to the mainland censors, and yet somehow poke a little fun at them? The answer is the most convoluted sentence ever written by me. Oh, and pretty much what we get with “Twilight Online”.
Eddie Cheung is Inspector Gu (and more on Mr Cheung in our next review, which shows that Gweiloramblings is more influenced by synchronicity rather than planning) who is drawn to two separate (or are they?) cases in Teun Mun. Firstly we have a suicide in a housing estate that seems to happen every night. And then we have the messy amateur investigation of another location in Teun Mun by a group of people led by real-life radio show host Edmond Poon (from which show the film has taken its title). There really are way too many people to list in this section, but I guess it mostly centres around High School Teacher Pong (Laurence Chou) and the schoolgirls who seem obsessed by him (and three of them are played by current Hong Kong pop-muppets @Supergirls). Gu’s investigations, alongside his keen young sidekick played by the unlikely named (but actually quite charming) Babyjohn Choi somewhat join the two cases together. But guess what? Maybe there is something more going on here than ghostly bumps in the night?
Part of me just wants to hate this movie. Structurally it is a complete mess. Time shifts unnecessarily. Believe it or not there is just too much plot (seriously there could have been two pretty full films here), and the film is stuffed with way too many characters – some of which I can’t even remember their names, their purposes or their motivations. Pretty much everything is something you have seen before, whether it is the “Blair Witch” shakey-cam moments, Susan Shaw’s Medium or bitchy and horny schoolgirls. It is like a game of modern horror film bingo.
Oh, and the CGI is dreadful. I mean utterly awful.
But. Despite all this. I rather enjoyed myself. Originality is nice, but it isn’t a prerequisite for fun. There are genuine shocks and jumps here. Cheung and Choi make a winning team. Even the humour seems to work, even if it is mostly 4th Wall breaking. It certainly isn’t overlong.
If anything, my biggest concern is that it took some real life events (a suicide of a girl who wore a red dress on the day of the Ghost Festival, and a Bus that fell off a bridge into a village), which raises some issues of taste in what is a fairly schlocky horror film. They clearly aren’t events which have particular relevance to me, but I am sure they have some resonance with locals.
The other issue is one of resolution. Spoiler time, but basically just about every event on display is explained away by either the Radio Show people faking things, or two characters suffering from mental illness. It is a trope that is just too common, especially in Chinese language horror. Now in the defence of director Maggie To, she is hamstrug by SAPPRFT (State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television). I am not going to write too much about it here, but have a read of this article (especially section 3) which gives a commentary on the issues. This is why in Chinese horror films it is always a dream or the machinations of a disturbed mind. But then as if to rescue it, this film does something that if it was being reviewed on Easternkicks would get it an extra star. Everything is wrapped up with the usual “our protagonist is having a breakdown”. A title card pops up, and so ends the movie. Except after that (and before the credits) we get an extra scene or two that pretty much says “actually there were ghosts all along, hopefully the mainland censor stopped watching when the title card went up”.
“Twilight Online” won’t go down as any kind of classic. It is overstuffed, confusing, and unoriginal. Yet it is also rather entertaining, provides some genuine scares and actually has more than a couple of decent performances. It has also made me quite happy to never attempt to listen to @Supergirls. Because they clearly are terribly annoying. Recommended with caution I think.