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'Tales From the Dark: Part 1' sees a veritable roster of Hong Kong
actors join forces with some of the most talented filmmakers from the
territory to breathe life into the dormant horror genre. Meant as the
first instalment of a duology based on acclaimed Chinese writer Lilian
Lee's stories, its star-studded cast includes Simon Yam, Tony Leung,
Kelly Chen and Susan Siu, with the likes of Yam (making his directorial
debut), Lee Chi-Ngai and Fruit Chan behind the camera.
That pedigree alone is enough to get one excited over this high-concept
anthology from Edko Films' Bill Kong and Movie Addict's Matthew Tang,
which aims to bring back the glory days of the 1980s and 1990s where
horror was a thriving genre of the Hong Kong filmmaking industry.
Indeed, it's been a while since there has been an authentic Hong Kong
horror (the last we can remember is Wong Jing's 'Hong Kong Ghost
Stories' last year) and even longer since there's been a decent
addition, so you'll understand why expectations are high.
Thankfully, despite a bumpy start, this first instalment of a duology
does not disappoint, with two of the three shorts hitting their
respective marks. It's perhaps befitting that we begin with the
unfortunate worst of the lot, Yam's 'Stolen Goods'. Casting himself in
the lead role, Yam plays a down-and-out odd-job worker Kwan who turns
to stealing urns and blackmailing their relatives for ransom in a
desperate bid to make ends meet. Needless to say, it doesn't go well
for Kwan, who soon finds himself face to face with one of the dead.
The problem with Yam's short is twofold. First, Lilian Lee's own script
spends too much time setting up Kwan's sorry predicament - in addition
to his unemployment, Kwan lives in a "coffin-sized" apartment where the
only people he interacts with are a pair of inanimate rag dolls - and
too little time making sense of the random ghostly images he sees, such
as an obese ghost (Lam Suet) who cannot stop eating and two little
girls locked out of their house. Second, Yam resorts too much to shrill
noises and jump scares to elicit some reaction from his audience, such
that it's hard not to judge his attempt at building atmosphere as
It's a good thing that it only goes on for a little more than a half
hour, with Chi-Ngai's 'A Word in the Palm' taking over to enliven the
proceedings. Instead of a straightforward horror, Chi-Ngai (who both
adapts and directs) injects delightful moments of levity into the story
of a reluctant palmist who teams up with a New Age spiritualist to
investigate a married couple's claim of being stalked by a ghost. The
plotting isn't particularly ingenious, but what makes this entry the
most entertaining of the triptych are Tony Leung and Kelly Chen's warm
and eccentric performances.
As the jaded palmist who can see ghosts but wishes not to and the hippy
spiritualist who can't see ghosts but eagerly wants to encounter one,
Leung and Chen are amusing opposites who share great chemistry with
each other. Nicely intertwined into the odd-couple's investigation is
Leung's character's own family troubles, his wife taking a vehement
objection to his (literally) otherworldly business that he has agreed
to set aside in order to spend more time with his son. Less scary than
laugh-out-loud amusing, it ends hilariously on a high note that is
bound to leave you with a wide grin.
Surprisingly, it gets even better with Fruit Chan's 'Jing Zhe'. Written
and directed by the acclaimed independent director, it centres on the
traditional practice of 'villain hitting' (or known as '打小人' in
Chinese) that is basically a means of cursing those who have wronged
you. Susan Siu plays one such hitter, who gets her own comeuppance when
she is approached by the ghost of a teenage girl (Dada Chen) to beat
four individuals - three men and one woman to be exact - whose
identities only become clearer later on.
Chan cleverly plays with the expectations of his audience, using a
well- heeled middle-aged woman's visit in the first half to exact
revenge on his son's wife and mistress to establish the practice and
serve as precursor to the tragic conclusion. His narrative
sleight-of-hand pays off dramatically with an emotional finish that
makes this not only the most memorable among the shorts, but also the
one that ties in most meaningfully with the moral at the end of each
short. And as with his outstanding 'Dumplings' in Peter Chan's 2004
anthology 'Three Extremes', Chan puts his documentarian style to good
use, striking an authentic note that suits the story perfectly.
By the time this anthology comes to a meditative close, you'll probably
have forgotten the somewhat questionable beginning it had with Yam's
'Stolen Goods'. Two out of three ain't bad at all, especially
considering how enjoyable Chi-Ngai's 'A Word in the Palm' and how
compelling Chan's 'Jing Zhe' are. That still makes it on the whole a
mighty fine addition to the Hong Kong horror genre, with the buck now
on Gordon Chan, Lawrence Lau and Teddy Robin to complete this as a
one-two perfect finish.
Tags for Tales from the Dark 1 Full Movie
Adam Chung-Tai Chan
, Cherry Ngan
, Dada Chan
, Eddie Li
, Jeannie Chan
, Kelly Chen
, Simon Yam
, Susan Yam-Yam Shaw
, Tony Ka Fai Leung
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