ContactSales: Edko Films, Hong Kong (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Premiere: New York Asian Film Festival (Opening Night), 28 Jun 2013. Theatrical release: Hong Kong, 11 Jul 2013.
Presented by Edko Films (HK), Movie Addict Productions (HK). Produced by Movie Addict Productions (HK). Executive producers: Bill Kong, Mathew Tang. Produced by Mathew Tang, Bill Kong.
Script: Lilian Lee (I), Lee Chi-ngai (II), Fruit Chan (III). Short stories: Lilian Lee (2008). Photography: Jason Kwan (I), Wade Muller (II), Lam Wah-chuen (III). Editing: Kwong Chi-leung (I), Lee Kar-wing (I), Lee Chi-ngai (II), Fruit Chan (III). Music: Kawai Kenji. Production design: Yee Chung-man, Pater Wong. Art direction: ZoeLydia Lee (I), Jasper Tsang. Costume design: Shirley Chan. Sound: Dennis Chen (I), Amos Ho (II), Tsui Sei-hoi (III), Benny Chu, Ricky Yip. Action: Roger Li (I), Chan Chung-tai (III). Visual effects: Yung Kwok-yin (yinyung.co).
Cast: I: Simon Yam (Kwan Fu-keung), Yuen Qiu (restaurant owner), Maggie Shiu (Kwok Wing-nei, real-estate agent), Felix Lok (Chu Wing-kit, her husband), Lam Suet (Boss Lee, greedy ghost), Jonathan Wong (younger policeman), Ariel Chan, Audrey Chan (girl ghost), Yuen Fu-wah (older policeman), Ma Yu-ching, Ho Sai-man, Lee Lai-kwan (ghosts), Leung Chi-kwong (foreman), Leung Chok-mei (tailor), Doris Wong, Joe Hu (flat viewers). II: Tony Leung Ka-fai (Ho Ho), Kelly Chen (Lan), Eileen Tung (Ho's wife), Cherry Ngan (Chan Siu-ting), Eddie Li (Cheung Ka-chun), Jeannie Chau (his wife), Cindy Yeung (beautiful client), Joe Hu (Kwong, waiter), Kitson Shum (Ben, Ho's son). III: Susan Shaw (Chu, the fortune teller), Josephine Koo (Koo, her wealthy customer), Dada Chan (ghost), Lo Hoi-pang (Leung Chan-ying/Z.Y. Leung), Chan Lai-wun (villain-hitting old woman), Brian Siswojo (An, Chu's son), Kit Leung (Ko), Phat Chan (Chan), Ho Wa-chiu, Chan Wing-chiu (policemen), Hau Woon-ling (rubbish woman), Chau Suk-wai (massage girl).
Tales from the Dark 1 李碧華鬼魅系列 迷離夜
2013, colour, 2.35:1 (I)/16:9 (II, III), 112 mins
Directed by Simon Yam (I), Lee Chi-ngai (II), Fruit Chan (III)
By Derek Elley
Mon, 14 October 2013, 09:15 AM (HKT)
HK ghost-story collection isn't very scary but has a satisfyingly homely feel. Asian and genre events.
Hong Kong, the present day. I: Stolen Goods (贓物). Hard up, plagued by ghosts and half-crazed from lack of sleep, Kwan Fu-keung (Simon Yam) imagines he is being followed around by ghosts. After being sacked from a construction job for arriving late due to a traffic accident, he's then sacked from his next job at a small restaurant. To make some money, he has the idea of stealing funerary urns and demanding HK$50,000 (US$6,500) from the families for their return. One caller accepts his deal, but with major consequences for Fu-keung. II: A Word in the Palm (放手). Fortune-teller Ho Ho (Tony Leung Ka-fai) tells his estranged wife (Eileen Tung) that he's decided to retire and study Chinese music. But he cannot shake his ability to see ghosts and, when a high-school girl, Chan Siu-ting (Cherry Ngan), comes by his shop, he thinks she may be the ghost of a teenager who recently committed suicide after getting pregnant by her swimming teacher (Eddie Li). With the help of ditzy occultist Lan (Kelly Chen), who has a shop selling crystals next door, he sets out to solve the mystery. III: Jing Zhe (驚蟄). On 5 Mar - the start of the third solar term, the Waking of Insects (jīngzhé) - a wealthy woman (Josephine Koo) visits Canal Road Flyover to get a street fortune-teller, Chu (Susan Shaw), to perform the ancient practice of "villain-beating" on a photo of a woman who "stole" her son from her affections. Later, as she's packing up for the night, Chu has a final customer, a strange-looking young woman (Dada Chan) who asks her to "beat" a group of people (three men and a woman) who did her some unspecified wrong.
A collection of three ghost tales, drawn from short stories by prolific Hong Kong writer Lilian LEE 李碧華 (Rouge 胭脂扣 (1987), Farewell My Concubine 霸王別姬 (1993)), Tales from the Dark 1 李碧華鬼魅系列 迷離夜 is hardly likely to give anyone sleepless nights but has a satisfyingly traditional feel that relies on character interplay more than thrills and spills. It's notable for the directing reins being handed not to young tyros but to three names well into their 50s, two of whom (Fruit CHAN 陳果, LEE Chi-ngai 李志毅) have virtually disappeared during the past decade and one of whom (actor Simon YAM 任達華) hasn't directed at all, despite being a gifted amateur photographer. The result is a portmanteau movie with a familiar, homely vibe — another example of Hong Kong cinema looking back rather than forward (recalling "horror" films of the '80s and early '90s) and strongly rooted in local archetypes, beliefs and the territory's urban landscape.
Lee's special interest in the Chinese spirit world co-existing with the present, rather than being a separate realm, enhances the fact that the tales are more about superstition — here, the ability to see ghosts — than regular "horror". Each story comes with a proverb attached, drawing lessons from the foregoing events.
The best, by a hair's breadth, is the first, Stolen Goods, which also marks the directing debut of actor Yam. The story of a half-crazed, unemployed man who's haunted by ghosts and then gets the idea of stealing funerary jars and selling them back to the families, it's restlessly shot and played like a bad waking dream, maintaining a continuous sense of semi-delirium across its 36 minutes. Lee is billed as "script advisor" on the whole film but she takes a solo writing credit for this segment, which comes the closest to showing the spirit and human worlds inextricably intertwined. The main weakness is Yam casting himself in the lead role: though he's now in his late 50s, and technically ready for less glamorous character roles, he too often looks here like he's over-acting rather than really getting under the skin of a mad, gibbering loner. Yam's performance is distracting but the segment as a whole still has a nice sense of shape and direction.
Running it a close second is A Word in the Palm (41 mins.), the first film by writer-director Lee Chi-ngai in four years and his first Chinese-language movie since Magic Kitchen 魔幻廚房 (2004). Centred on an ageing fortune-teller (Tony LEUNG Ka-fai 梁家輝) whose life has been plagued by being able to see ghosts, it's played for a mixture of drama and comedy, with Kelly CHEN 陳慧琳 (as a wacky occultist in goofy glasses) especially ramping up the latter. Lee, who's best known for his collaborations with Peter CHAN 陳可辛 in the early '90s (Tom, Dick, and Hairy 風塵三俠 (1992), He Ain't Heavy, He's My Father 新難兄難弟 (1993)), delivers a regular-looking movie based more on character interplay than on horror, and largely turns it over to Leung's mellow performance of a man on the brink of retirement. The original title means Letting Go, which sums up the point of the tale much better than the awkward English title.
Relatively the weakest of the three — in that it's the least developed — is Chan's Jing Zhe (30 mins.), which uses the Mandarin name for a period in early spring when nature first stirs after winter and personal accounts can be settled. It's the slim tale of an old roadside fortune-teller (veteran Susan SHAW 邵音音, aka Yum Yum Shaw in her early years) who's asked by a weird-looking young woman (Dada CHAN 陳靜, memorable as "Popping Candy" in Vulgaria 低俗喜劇 (2012)) to perform a traditional curse on a group of people who wronged her. Chan goes for a grubby, almost documentary look among the roadside denizens of Wanchai's Canal Road Flyover that's a nice change of tone after the previous two segments; but as a short story it's structurally unbalanced, taking too long to get to the point (after a long sequence with actress Josephine KOO 顧美華 as an earlier client) and with a sudden resolution that relies on visual effects and violence rather than emotional release. As he proved with his last Chinese-language feature, Dumplings 餃子 (2004) (co-written with Lilian Lee), Chan does know his horror; but Jing Zhe needs at least a further 10 minutes of fleshing out to work properly.
Technical contributions are mostly fine throughout, with the best work coming from d.p. Jason KWAN 關智耀 (who's done several films for PANG Ho-cheung 彭浩翔) in the widescreen first segment and Wade MULLER (Mindfulness and Murder ศพไม่เงียบ (2010), Triad 紮職 (2012)) in the second. Production design, especially in the first story, is suitably atmospheric. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the score, which is another exercise in sonic padding by Japan's KAWAI Kenji 川井憲次.
The original title means Lilian Lee's Ghosts & Demons Series: Blurry Nights. The source of the stories (and the film's Chinese title) is the second book in a five-volume, 2008 collection that gathers together ghost tales by Lee originally published in newspaper form. A second movie in the series, Tales from the Dark 2 李碧華鬼魅系列 奇幻夜, was released in Hong Kong four weeks later.