Director: Lawrence Lau Kwok Cheong, Gordon Chan, Teddy Robin Kwan
Cast: Fala Chen, Gordon Lam, Teddy Robin Kwan
RunTime: 1 hr 29 mins
Rating: M18 (Disturbing Content & Sexual Scenes)
Released By: Encore Films
Official Website: http://www.encorefilms.com/talesfromthedark2
Opening Day: 8 August 2013
Synopsis: Bolster Phantom (directed by Gordon Chan)
How far would you go for a good night’s sleep? Stricken by the disappearance of her boyfriend, Yee starts to develop insomnia. Countless sleeping pills couldn’t treat the disorder, until one day when she comes across a small rundown bedding shop under an alley. “Finding a comfortable pillow is as difficult as finding Mr. Right.” Yee is especially attracted by the exotic scent of a bolster and decides to buy it. It works like a charm, as if her boyfriend caresses her to sleep every night. But what she doesn’t know is the secret behind the bolster and the nightmare she is getting herself into…
Hide and Seek (directed by Lawrence Lau Kwok Cheong)
A forsaken elementary school is scheduled to be torn down. Some alumni decide to pay a visit to the place they once called home, but few decide to call it home and reside there for good. 8 bold former classmates return to their schoolyard for old times’ sake. Just when they think the gatekeeper is the only being in the abandoned site, they don’t realize there are actually more “inhabitants” than they ever imagine. While they are juggling around and playing their own version of hide-and-seek, more and more “players” join in without their knowing. As the night falls, they will soon come face-to-face with the inhabitants that lurk behind and prevent them from leaving the site.
Black Umbrella (directed by Teddy Robin)
Wherever there is god, there is evil. Contrary to our usual perception, evil often presents itself in the most peculiar, unexpected disguise. Lam is a middle-aged, hobbit-sized man in a Tang outfit and black umbrella. Virtuous on the outlook and chivalrous on the inside, he feels like an outcast in this filthy city where the traditional value is plunged by the modern culture. When his ingenuousness is being exploited to the tolerance peak, his inner beast breaks loose and wrecks havoc on whoever took advantage of him. .
More appropriately titled ‘Tales of Diminishing Returns’, this second instalment of the horror duology based on acclaimed Chinese writer Lilian Lee’s stories sees Gordon Chan, Lawrence Lau and Teddy Robin botching the track record established by Lee Chi-Ngai and Fruit Chan in its predecessor. Not one of the three stories here matches up in terms of scares or just plain entertainment with that in the first entry, even when measured against the worst of that lot, i.e. Simon Yam’s ‘Stolen Goods’.
Just as how Yam’s short kicked off that instalment, this one begins with the most underwhelming of them all, Chan’s ‘Pillow’. Scripted by Chan himself, the title refers to a medical pillow whom lead protagonist Ching Yi (Fala Chen) buys in a bid to overcome her insomnia. The cause of that is revealed right at the start - her boyfriend (Lam Ka Tung) has disappeared following a heated argument between the pair one night after he discovers that she has been tapping into his phone and reading his messages.
But with sleep comes a string of recurrent dreams where her boyfriend is forcing himself onto her, the answer to her nightly disturbances simply too obvious and banal. One suspects all too early in the story that the mystery lies not within the pillow itself, but in Ching-Yi; once that is pretty much established, it isn’t hard to guess why she is having them nightmares. Such a straightforward tale could certainly have benefited from a less clinical telling, but Chan approaches it in a disappointingly candid manner without much use of sound or visual effects. The result is both dull and uninvolving, not helped too by Fala’s unconvincing performance.
Lawrence Lau’s ‘Hide N Seek’ therefore comes like a gust of fresh air, setting up from the start some intrigue withthe mysterious disappearance of a little girl named Ceci one week ago whom the two male protagonists we see lamenting about it are somehow guilty for. Framing the proceedings as flashback, Lau and his screenwriter Mathew Tang (who is also the producer and brainchild of this franchise) take their audience back to that fateful night when eight former elementary schoolmates visit the abandoned premises of their school about to be torn down.
The school is haunted all right, and the shocking appearance (yes, you’ll agree when you see it for yourself in the movie) of a creepy watchman who warns them not to stay past dark pretty much confirms that. Of course, they don’t listen, but instead of just sitting in a circle telling ghost stories, they decide to play a twist of the old ‘hide-and-seek’ around the school with roles of ghostbuster, human and ghost assigned to each one of the players. You can guess that the otherworldly inhabitants of the school will join in the ‘fun’, which Lau milks for some genuinely thrilling moments.
Even though it does rely on tried-and-tested techniques in the horror rulebook, Lau executes them fairly well to get your pulse racing. There is little by way of plot or character here, but Lau’s aim here is to give his audience a taut and tense experience most reminiscent of the old-school Hong Kong horror movies; and in that regard, he proves surprisingly successful. It’s a pity then that Tang doesn’t quite know how to bring the narrative to a satisfying close, relying on an unconvincing twist that leaves too much hanging.
What goodwill Lau redeems is lost by the time Robin’s ‘Black Umbrella’ rolls along. Fans of 80s and 90s Hong Kong cinema will surely recognise the diminutive icon, who both acts and stars in this closing segment scripted by Lilian Lee herself. Unfolding on the 14th day of the Seventh Month as two parallel narrative threads that eventually coalesce, the first has Robin playing a wizened do-gooder Lam carrying a black umbrella on which handle he scratches a mark on after every kind deed, while the second sees Aliza Mo as a Mainland prostitute looking for her mark.
Unfortunately for the latter, Lam isn’t as simple as he appears- despite looking like easy prey she can fleece by claiming that he had raped her. While it is - we must admit - an ending that we never quite expected, it is nonetheless deeply unsatisfying, so left-of-field that it raises more questions than answers, as abrupt as it is inexplicable. Rather than leaving on a high note, it pretty much hollows out its audience and (with no disrespect to the venerable Robin) leaves you with a simple thought - ‘WTF’.
In fact, more critical audiences will say the same of each and every one of the shorts in this triptych. To put it simply, there is little or no payoff at the end of Chan, Lau and Robin’s stories, and only Lau’s manages to eke out some degree of horror. A valiant effort it has been on the part of Bill Kong and Tang, but this high-profile attempt at injecting life into a now-dormant genre in Hong Kong cinema pretty much fizzles out. Now we know why the horror genre has been absent for so many years, and with such lacklustre entries, we suspect that it will continue to remain lifeless.
(A disappointing follow-up to its flawed but nonetheless entertaining predecessor, this second instalment falters with dull storytelling, disappointing endings and a dearth of any genuine scares)
Review by Gabriel Chong