Starring : Simon Yam, Lam Suet, Tony Leung Kar-Fai, Kelly Chen, Siu Yam-Yam and Dada Chan
Director : Fruit Chan, Lee Chi-Ngai and Simon Yam
Release Date : 11 Jul 2013
Omnibus horror movies are nothing new, even in Asia. And with such strong and memorable recent offerings like Three, Three Extremes and even Thailand’s 4BIA, a new omnibus horror movie needs to offer something special in order to stand out and be noticed. And the smart executives at Edko Films and Movie Addict Productions have pulled something of a minor coup here when they decided to adapt short stories by Lillian Lee for Tales From The Dark.
One of Hong Kong’s most well known authors, Lee has written over 100 books including Rouge, Farewell My Concubine and Green Snake. Her series of horror stories called Tales From The Dark, originally written for a magazine, became so popular that they even resulted in a series of novels, and it is those stories that we will see in both parts of Tales From The Dark the movie, Part 1 of which is released now. Part 2 will be unleashed next month to coincide with the Hungry Ghost Festival.
Consisting of three short films, the first segment is called Stolen Goods, and it marks the directorial debut of famous Hong Kong actor Simon Yam. Yam himself plays the lead role of a poor man who is unfortunately unable to hold down a job for very long. Living in a small room filled with dolls and children’s toys that he regularly talks to, things take a turn for the worse when he finally resorts to grave robbing, stealing urns and demanding ransom from the immediate families.
Of the three segments, Yam’s is clearly the weakest and most clichéd of the lot, especially in terms of his visual and storytelling choices as the things he shows (and tells) are overly familiar. To be blunt, it’s simply quite boring.
Things pick up considerably with the second segment, A Word In The Palm, directed by 1990s veteran Lee Chi-Ngai, director of such fondly remembered feelgood classics as He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Father (1993) andTom, Dick And Hairy (1993). Opting for a more comical tone, the segment is brightened up by the expert comic timing of Tony Leung Kar-Fai, who plays Mr Ho, a fortune teller who sometimes sees ghosts, and Kelly Chen, who plays a bubbly and loopy mystic who’s just a few doors away from Mr Ho.
Their story involves the ghost of a high school girl, a pregnant wife, a teacher, a death by drowning, and some silly business involving a music CD, crystals and a dinner date with an ex-wife and piano prodigy son. Despite the dark source material and ingredients, Ngai’s segment simply can’t help but radiate the funny and feelgood spirit of the movies that made his name in the 1990s, and it is always a nice surprise to find oneself laughing uncontrollably during a horror movie.
Another “comeback” is in store as we get to the final segment, titled Jing Zhe, directed by Fruit Chan, another big 1990s name who has gone quiet in the past few years and whose last big film was Dumplings (2004), also a Lillian Lee adaptation. Not being familiar at all with the concept of “villain hitting”, I found this segment to be incredibly fascinating, not just because of the unfamiliar subject matter but also because of the deeply felt emotional twists and turns in the story.
Jing Zhe tells the story of a villain hitter, played by Siu Yam-Yam, formerly one of Hong Kong’s biggest sex symbols and in her now advanced years was last seen in Gallants (2010) and Vulgaria (2012). People who want to wish ill on their enemies will usually go to a villain hitter and the villain hitter will then beat on a piece of paper (or better still, a picture) of said enemy, like a paper version of a voodoo doll, and bad things will happen to the enemy.
On the night of Jing Zhe, which is a Chinese calendar date when all of creation, including various bad spirits, are awakened by a loud burst of thunder, Siu is visited by a ghostly looking young woman (Dada Chan, last seen as Popping Candy in Vulgaria) and is asked to hit four people – three men and a woman. As the events unfold it will gradually dawn on her and the audience who the three men and a woman are, and Chan expertly reveals his cards slowly, contributing to the emotional punch that makes this final segment so memorable.
In the end, two out of three hits is not so bad. Just remember to stick it out during the first segment and you’ll be finely rewarded with two horror tales that are both darkly funny and affecting.