Reel Asian 2013: Tales from the Dark Part 1 Review

Tales from the Dark Part 1

Tales from the Dark Part 1 (Centerpiece Presentation)

A delightfully old school anthology of creepy ghost stories, the first installment of Tales from the Dark (both of which were released in China earlier this year) consists of three consistently spooky and amusing shorts about characters all trying to profit off the deaths  and misfortunes of others.

In the first tale, Stolen Goods, beloved actor and first time director Simon Yam (Election, The Thieves, Ip Man) tells the story of a down on his luck labourer (also played by Yam) who concocts a scheme to steal urns from a mausoleum and holds them for ransom, which holds GRAVE consequences.

In A Word in the Palm, from Chi-Ngai Lee (making his horror genre debut), a palm reader who can see ghosts is about to enter his last day of work before his retirement. That’s undone when he and a fellow shop owner (who sells healing crystals and stones) stumble upon the ghost of a dead high schooler who has it in for a former teacher who did something terribly UNDERHANDED.

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The closer would probably appeal to the serious horror movie buffs the most. In Jing Zhe, writer and director Fruit Chen, takes a look at the practice of “villain hitting,” or wishing ill and harm upon one’s enemies by paying someone to beat the crap out of a picture of them. One such woman who carries out such a practise starting at $50 a pop takes on one last fateful customer before going home, and her work turns out to be a SMASHING success.

Hopefully you read all those words in bold with a gleeful, Cryptkeeper-like cackle at the end of them. With the exception of the final tale, the emphasis mostly gets placed on creepy plot twists, well crafted “gotcha” moments, and cleverly written stories about morality, instead of bloody violence. It’s scary, but in the same positively charming ways as old school EC Comics. By that same token, none of them sacrifice a sense of cultural identity in an attempt to scare, and the three stories all come with an economic subtext that would make for a great palate cleanser following something like Jia Zhangke’s vastly more serious anthology film A Touch of Sin.

Chen’s story might be the strongest overall, adapting a unique handheld sort of aesthetic that gives way to a grander sort of spectacle towards the end. Yam brings a lot of style and a great performance to his section, and gets things going in the right direction early. Chi-Ngai’s will probably spook people the least, and it does go on a bit long when it becomes kind of a ghostbusting story, but it also has a lot of humour and a surprising amount of heart and emotion.

Genre buffs who like their anthologies smart, fleet, witty, and most importantly scary, should take these Tales from the Dark(side) for a spin.

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If they dare… (Andrew Parker)

Screens

Friday, November 8th, The Royal, 8:00pm

Director/Actor Simon Yam will also be holding an In Conversation talk at  Jackman Hall AGO on Thursday, November 7th at 3:30pm. Admission is free and is open to the public.

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