Dir. Simon Yam (in attendance), Fruit Chan, Lee Chi-Ngai | Hong Kong 2013 | 114:00 | Cantonese with English subtitles | Rated 18A
Written by Milica Dodic
Ghosts are an almost too-familiar subject of Hong Kong horror films, and here we have another trilogy of them. That is not to say that they are not entertaining, fun, and creepy. They are, in fact, all of these things. With an amazing cast and crew, Tales from the Dark: Part 1 brings together some of Hong Kong’s most famous to present three different segments of ghost tales, based on the novels of Lilian Lee, directed by Simon Yam, Chi-Ngai Lee, and Fruit Chan.
The first segment, entitled “Stolen Goods,” is directed by the legendary film star Simon Yam. He happened to be in attendance at this year’s festival, and definitely lived up to his name – truly a fan-favourite, charming and humorous, staying after Q&A’s to take pictures with each audience member and sign autographs. As Yam shared during the Q&A session, the underlying issues of “Stolen Goods” deal with the growing disparity between the rich and the poor in Hong Kong, and the economic system within the region. This theme is obvious throughout the film, as the “homeless” ghosts are constantly trying to find a new home. The protagonist, played by Yam, is always losing his job, so he decides the best way to make money is to steal urns from a local graveyard, asking for ransom. It is here that both the dead and the living become homeless. As the inter title at the film’s end states “Humans. Ghosts. Everyone is searching for the way home.” Unfortunately, the film is a little disjointed; it succeeds thematically, but the different ghosts (two little girls, a gluttonous rich man) don’t seem to have any direct, visual tie to the main storyline involving the disappearing urns. The sudden close-ups on the objects around the protagonist’s tiny apartment, such as the many dolls and toys, take you out of the element of horror. They become more comical, rather than scary (although dolls in horror films are certainly creepy).
Chi-Ngai Lee directs the almost soap opera-like second segment, “A Word in the Palm.” A young high school student commits suicide by drowning herself, after her handsome swimming coach, Mr. Cheung, who is married and whose wife is pregnant, seems to stop loving her. She, too, was pregnant, having had an affair with Mr. Cheung. Unable to let go of this love, the girl is left in limbo, haunting the young couple. Had it not been for the humour brought by the great Kelly Chen and Tony Leung Ka Fai playing a crystal spiritual healer and a psychic, respectively, the short film would be overly melodramatic. In this way, the film had a sense of humour, although somewhat cheesy at times.
The final segment, “Jing Zhe,” is brought to life by Fruit Chan, who has a cinematic history of directing other anthological horror films, like “Dumplings” for Three Extremes. This one is the most gruesome of all three shorts, which definitely works to the film’s advantage. Employing the tradition of “villain hitting,” another young, female ghost appears, who has been wronged in her life. A victim of kidnap, the ghost finds an old lady who performs villain hitting, as a way to seek to revenge on those who killed her. With a twist ending, Chan is able to engage the audience. What goes around, comes around. It is well-directed, as it will certainly creep out the audience.
Although not entirely jump-out-of-your-seat scary, these horror films bring the usual entertainment factor that so many Hong Kong ghost films bring – at times chilling, other times funny, and just overall enjoyable.