I'm sure some of you out there would conveniently associate Kelvin Tong's reputation with the dismal Men in White, forgetting that the writer-director had his success stories in his earlier works Eating Air and The Maid. You can tell clearly that I did not really enjoy MiW, nor his experimental Love Story, but with Rule #1, Kelvin Tong gets my vote of confidence henceforth, if he steers clear of bad comedy, and pretentious art house flicks.
What I do like about his movies, each one of them, is how he grips you right from the start. How it develops then on is a different tale, but his introductions are nothing short of mesmerizing. Here, he demolishes all preconceived notions you have when watching a movie, and warns you of sorts about the experience you're going to go through with Rule #1, that is, to throw all assumptions out of the window. In fact, the opening scenes were frantic and leaves you just enough to continue questioning in which direction the movie will propel itself forward.
And thankfully, it made all the right moves, despite momentarily lapses in succumbing to cheap scares that don't really add much value to the movie. Yes, we know how Kelvin crafts scenes that will send shivers down your spine until the crescendo (even Men in White's introduction had shades of this), and they all work here too, except that I thought that they were a little unnecessary except to anchor the movie in the land of the supernatural. It's central plot doesn't become clear until midway through the movie, and from then on it lunges to a higher plateau at breakneck speed, with the audience probably second and triple guessing themselves all the way to the finale, with flashbacks at times becoming a little too spelt out for good.
It's a smart move to have this movie made in Hong Kong, where he has able crew (Cinematographer Keung Kwok Man lensed the movie and made it look really edgy) and leads like Ekin Cheng and Shawn Yue to carry the movie through. Ekin plays the head honcho in the police force's Miscellaneous Affairs Department (MAD, heh), which handles the 2% of calls synonymous with the X-Files. His Inspector Wong's drunken antics and devil may care attitude seem to stem from his long serving years in MAD, but he survives day to day with his mantra Rule #1 - There is no such things as ghosts - which he imparts to team rookie Sergeant Lee (Shawn Yue), who slowly learns that the mantra and scientific explanations seem to run contrary to what Wong really knows. I thought Yue gave a tremendous performance in his role as the pained Lee in John Constantine garb, who in his second chance at life seemed to have opened his eyes to ghosts who walk on this earth. While scenes where the two male leads play off each other are limited, I particularly enjoyed the one where they staked out their prey, which had them banter on rather matter-of-factly at how they would approach the impending scenario, before their greatest fears come alive, and that rug from under our feet starts to stir.
Sure there are familiar shades from movies like Fallen and Suicide Club, and a lot of "waking up" moments, but they never did once mar my enjoyment of the movie as it went along. Rule #1 had enough suspenseful moments to thrill, and Kelvin Tong seemed very assured to be in familiar grounds of horror. Those expecting an all out fright-fest may be slightly disappointed as it turns on the supernatural spin a lot more than the boo-moments, and fans of Fiona Xie will find that their Mediacorp darling still got relegated to a flower vase role in a one-dimensional performance, despite this being her second movie outing (after One Leg Kicking). Here she plays the dutiful girlfriend to Sergeant Lee, and that's about it, being half-asleep most of the time (no, nothing sexy about that too).
Mark my words, Rule #1 is Kelvin Tong's best movie to date, and definitely very well executed, as good as or even better than any Asian thriller in recent memory. He has shown again that he can craft commercially viable movies with relatively original stories to tell. Note the release date on your calendar, and give it a go next week!