Director: Chan Pang Chun
Cast: Yuen Cheung Yan, Tsao Yu Ning, Kara Wai, Esther Huang, Carlos Chan, Angie Shum, Anika Sheng, Keeva Mak
Runtime: 1 hr 29 mins
Rating: NC16 (Horror and Sexual Violence)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 8 August 2019
Synopsis: To reminisce about the old-school life, Ho Tsz Fung (starring Tsao Yu-Ning) and his old friends revisited their school before it shut down. Over the years, there were many rumors spreading among the students, as the school was used as a military laboratory during the Japanese occupation in World War II. When walking around the school, they find a former student’s diary among the archive journals, which recorded supernatural events in the past, including the mysterious disappearance of a girl.
I used to study in a pre-war school, and so as you might guess, the grounds were filled with stories. The fact that actual riots and war heroes were part of its history made it all the more compelling. So haunted school plots have a particular relevance to me, especially when they involve unspoken topics, mysterious rooms and Japanese soldiers.
In Binding Souls, Feng (Tsao Yu Ning) returns to his alma mater college before its impending demolition with his girlfriend and three other students for some research, but finds more than they bargain for in its blood-filled Japanese-occupied history. If this sounds all too familiar, it is. And will stay that way for the next 89 minutes.
Predictable plot aside, don’t be expecting too much from other aspects in this lacklustre production. With a done-to-death casting (jock, homeboy, scaredy-cat, ringleader, filler) and twists one can spot a mile away, even something as basic as production sense goes out the window with wardrobe discontinuity.
Given how basic everything feels, especially the limp scraps that the script seems to be pieced from, it’s surprising to know that director Chan Pang Chun is not a first-timer. With a few horror projects in his belt, his experience in multiple roles seems to have not benefited him in any way at all, as he drives this project to the ground with a direction a goldfish could muster.
In terms of characters, they end up as just flat caricatures of stereotypes, and their repetitive lines are torturous in their own right. Feng’s girlfriend constantly gets spooked and reminds the others not to scare her, while ringleader Mei Qi literally begs with exaggeration for spirits to appear. If done right, this might be construed as camp, but the overall finesse clearly shows that this is pure cheese and time-fillers to prolong the story acts. It’s extremely tiresome to watch the five stay one-note throughout the movie, no matter what is thrown at them.
Wearing down one’s patience is also the incoherent reactions and proceedings, as scare scenes are patched together without flow. You’ll find no logic when the characters choose to explore or when they sleep, other than for the sole reason to introduce a scare. With no framework for their exploration to unfold, the scenes just quickly aggravate.
The sloppy handling extends to many loose ends that occur in the show. One of the students start to hiccup soon after she visits the school, but nothing ever comes of it. There’s also a ranting homeless guy that terrorises people at the gate, and prolonged meaningful shots seem to indicate his deeper knowledge, but the credits come on and again, not a trace of what he was all about.
Binding Souls is like elevator music, but the worst kind where they get a mediocre singer to do an Adele cover. The struggle can be seen in every facet of this Hong Kong production, and whether it’s due to lack of talent, time or money, the full reasons cannot possibly merit this disaster. The only thing I can give credit to would be how gruesome a few of the scenes are… but just barely.
(This proves even classic plots can go wrong. Chan’s confused product is almost unwatchable, and the characters some of the most annoying around)
Review by Morgan Awyong