Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- associate
editor / film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author
of The Hong Kong Filmography.
When HK cinema took a downturn in the late 90s, producers and distributors seemed to split off into two camps. On the one side, high rollers Golden Harvest and Media Asia decided to concentrate much of their resources on big-budget action thrillers that would gain greater overseas distribution and win back local audiences more interested in watching Hollywood imports. On the other, Wong Jing and lesser producers continued to crank out low-budget exploitation fare, leading to a mini boom in horror films. Cheap thrillers appeared in HK theatres on a virtual week-by-week basis, the vast majority of them interchangeable and completely lacking in chills. However, these productions kept the talent pool in front of and behind the camera working and even led to the creation of horror franchises like the TROUBLESOME NIGHT series (twelve entries to date), the "o'clock" trilogy (01:00 A.M., 02:00 A.M., 03:00 A.M.), HOROSCOPE I & II, and THE WICKED GHOST 1 and 2. It also proved to be a watershed for veteran actress Helena Law Lan (real name Lo Yin-ying), who soon found herself typecast as spooky old ladies in the majority of these pictures. As a result, Law earned the nickname "Dragon Granny," after the character she had memorably portrayed in Wellson Chin Sing-wai's horror / comedy hit THOU SHALT NOT SWEAR (1993).
Helena Law Lan (left) and Sophie Ngan Chin-man (right).
Bowie Lau Bo-yin's RESORT MASSACRE (produced by the Universe Films Distribution Company primarily for video release, though it did play briefly in theatres) is a typical entry in the cycle, clumsily melding together elements from previous productions, and slowly falls apart after a fairly promising opening. The film begins with a murder sequence inspired by the bathtub drowning "suicide" from Mario Bava's BLOOD AND BLACK LACE and then introduces us to the timid and seemingly retarded Joey (Milkyway Image's favorite everyman actor Lam Suet, doing a more somber variation on Kent Cheng Chuk-see's memorable "Fat Cat" character from WHY ME? and THE BELOVED SON OF GOD). Largely blind after staring at a solar eclipse as a child, Joey lives with his aged mother, Mrs. Yim (Helena Law Lan), who runs Sunshine Resort on Cheung Chau, a small island about an hour by ferry from HK. The girl (Cherry Chan Chiu-chiu) murdered in the opening scene was a guest who had quarrelled vehemently with her boyfriend, Paul (Mark Cheng Ho-nam), the night before. Scandal sheet reporter Mayse (Sophie Ngan Chin-man) is assigned to write a story on Paul and, at her editor's behest, spuriously claims that he was out carousing right on the heels of his lover's "suicide." Paul is understandably furious but he and Mayse eventually make peace and join forces in their quest to get to the bottom of what is happening on the island. Are the deaths the work of Joey and his hyper-protective mother or is it police chief Hoi (William Ho Kar-kui), who takes great joy in tormenting Joey, and is pressuring Mrs. Yim into selling her property to a contractor?
An excellent character actor, Lam endows his character with equal degrees of menace and pathos and both the cinematography and the score are above average. Alas, the film goes off the rails during its mid-section, when a group of Mayse's obnoxious colleagues travel to the island to do a story on the deaths, only to end up as victims of the psycho, now garbed exactly like The Ghost-Faced Killer from the SCREAM trilogy! The slasher cliches come fast and furious from this point onwards and the macabre underpinnings of the "twist" ending fall flat. Producer Lee Siu-kei cameos as one of the local policemen.