Sunday, December 04, 2011

Hong Kong Ghost Stories (猛鬼愛情故事 / Meng Gui Ai Qing Gu Shi)

What's That Behind Me?

If this is indeed the state of affairs of Hong Kong horror films, then let the alarm bells start to sound. While the crime thriller genre had seen a revival in recent years through a number of filmmakers like Dante Lam rising through to join the veteran ranks of luminaries such as Johnnie To, the horror film had seen a dearth of output if not for the Pang Brothers, which in all honesty is hit-and-mostly-miss. Wong Jing and Patrick Kong helm a medium length film each put together to form this offering, but in essence offer nothing much other than to have a bevy of good looking female leads star in each of their respective filmlets.

In Classroom, Wong Jing provides the story and direction about a teacher Miss Yip (Jennifer Tse) providing relief services in a high school, and naturally given the most notorious cohort to manage. From minor teenage misdemeanour issues to that involving the flesh trade highlighting the trade off high school students engage in without batting an eyelid for money and material goods, the film gets off to a steady start, before a series of cliches start to do it in. As a subplot we learn that Ms Yip is an abused woman in a violent relationship and had recently left her abusive boyfriend (Pakho Chau) who has been harassing her of late seeking forgiveness, and builds up a mystery involving Ms Yip realizing that the class she's actually teaching, does not exist anymore.

While Wong Jing had largely steered clear of his trademark bawdy jokes here, although he still cannot give up the opportunity to put young starlets in PT attire with micro shorts and skirts, the story is in fact nothing new, and horror junkies will guess how everything will get played out by the mid-way mark. If it's any consolation to make this film trip worthwhile, it'll be Jennifer Tse starring in her very first role in a Hong Kong film, and from what's been seen so far, I suppose she has what it takes from her acting dynasty family to further a career in showbusiness. Nothing quite horrific done by Wong Jing here, except for some gory makeup and instances where it veered toward gory territory.

Similarly, Patrick Kong's Travel also doesn't boast anything that will make you jump at your seat. Starring Chrissy Chau as a character whose opening shot is a photograph of her during her funeral, the film flits back and forth through flashbacks to build the story of how Bobo (Chau) meets a group of four friends during their tour to Thailand (and modest production budget means Hong Kong doubling up as Thailand, and seen in rather slip-shoddy ways in which the same landscape gets used twice to pass off as different countries, tsk), all horny women out for some sexual escapade. Soon we learn that there's more than meets the eye to Bobo as she bickers with her boyfriend Karl (Him Law) over the phone, and slowly but surely everything will be revealed that Bobo may not be as innocent or icy cool as she looked.

This filmlet plays off more like a murder mystery, where the souls of those who are wronged, and filled with unfinished business, fail to leave our world, lingering around for justice to be done. The first few minutes provided plenty of loose ends which the narrative will plug as it goes along, and frankly Patrick's story served to engage a little bit more than Wong's film does, although it does rely plenty of conveniences in the plot in the way the mystery unravells itself. The ensemble cast here doesn't offer much in terms of acting or scares, and Chau herself was kept under wraps almost all of the time, wanting to be taken seriously as an actress I suppose, but definitely not in a film like this one that offered nothing in her character that she could have used as a showcase of acting chops.

The two films will hardly elicit a squeal from what had been put in the film, with the filmmakers conspicuously trying their best to not dip into the usual bag of tricks to rely on jump cut edits or lingering shots to provide that instant release of pent up fear, nor did it do much to build any anticipation prior to delivery its payload. This is probably one of the tamest horror film, if one can label it as that, and the only horrific element here, is how a project like this is able to take off and claiming to be definitive in its representation of Hong Kong horror films through its English title, while doing everything wrong in with its crystal clear absence of notable chills and thrills.

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