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Are You Here

Sammy Sum, Jacqueline Chong and Siu Yam-Yam wonder Are You Here.

Chinese: 碟仙碟仙  
Year: 2015

Jil Wong Pak-Kei


Patrick Kong, Angus Chan


Patrick Kong, Poon Hung-Sze


Jacqueline Chong Si-Man, Sammy Sum Chun-Hin, Alan Luk Chun-Kwong, Jumbo Tsang Suk-Nga, Siu Yam-Yam, Bau Hei-Jing, Law Lan, Don Li Yat-Long, Angela Yuen, Vivian Law Choi-Ling

  The Skinny:

Middling-to-below-average horror flick from the team of writer-producer Patrick Kong and director Jil Wong. It’s not very scary or consistent, but the combination of Kong’s “Love Sucks” tropes with the Hong Kong horror genre makes for a sometimes amusing experience. Featuring three very cool old ladies in Law Lan, Siu Yam-Yam and Bau Hei-Jing.

by Kozo:
Previous Patrick Kong horror efforts (Forgive and Forget and one half of Hong Kong Ghost Stories) haven’t really impressed, and his latest attempt Are You Here follows that trend in unspectacular fashion. Written and produced by Kong, and directed by frequent collaborator Jil Wong, Are You Here opens with four teenage girls playing with an Ouija board in an abandoned school where a rape and murder once took place. After a decently effective freakout, the film forgets completely about the girls and shifts its focus to Min (Jacqueline Chong), who discovers she’s pregnant with the child of her longtime boyfriend Lung (Sammy Sum). Unfortunately, Lung is a self-absorbed jerk who’s too busy losing money at gambling when he should be working. He, along with Min and friends Keung (Alan Luk) and Fun (Jumbo Tsang), are supposed to be collaborating on a gaming app but the company is in danger of closing thanks to Lung’s crappy management and mounting debts.

This being a Patrick Kong movie, it should be noted that nearly everyone in the film sucks. Keung is a snarky asshat who whores around, while Fun takes fat checks from her married boyfriend (Don Li) and has more dating partners than the film cares to count. This sounds like I’m slut-shaming – which would be politically incorrect – but really, the way Patrick Kong writes them, it’s him judging his own loathsome characters. The sole decent person is Min, who doesn’t write off Lung even though she totally should. Unfortunately for her, Min hears disembodied baby cries coming from empty bathroom stalls, which causes Auntie Lan (Siu Yam-Yam) to suspect that ghosts are involved. There’s a reason behind Min’s ghost-attracting status, but it’s only revealed after her company agrees to work for the creepy Mrs. Wong (Bau Hei-Jing), who offers HK$10 million if the team completes an Ouija board app for her dead son. They agree and soon everybody is seeing ghosts. Sweet!

Are You Here starts off decently by building methodically towards its horror reveals, but the awful characters grind the whole thing down. Jerks and sociopaths can make for intriguing protagonists, but Kong’s characters lack the charisma or complexity to convince of anything but their douchebaggery. As such, it’s hard to care when things go bad and they start suffering. This flaw could have been offset had the filmmakers gone for wicked schadenfreude, but they didn’t do that – which is unfortunate because a sense of humor can fix many a mediocre movie. Still, Kong recovers somewhat by introducing his usual “love sucks” themes into the mix. Funnily enough, Kong’s brand of cynical romance works pretty well in an atmosphere of fear and terror, and helps Are You Here manage a few entertaining and clever moments amidst its mediocrity. There are silver linings everywhere.

Unfortunately, Kong also relies on his trademark overdone flashbacks and talky explanations, which disrupt both tension and tone. Though he’s shown some flashes of potential, director Jil Wong chooses to spoon-feed the audience, and ends up letting the script tell the story instead of his direction. Are You Here has the potential for subtle horror that only dawns on you after the fact, but the filmmakers don’t trust their audience (or are too lazy) to attempt that. Instead, they wipe out their few clever ideas with unimaginative storytelling and banal plot twists. Also, the story lacks coherence; while it’s laid out early that using an Ouija board invites ghosts into the physical realm, they’re clearly wandering nearby beforehand, plus the supernatural rules given to the audience don’t make sense upon closer scrutiny. That is, if you’re so engaged that you’re paying attention to the rules. It’s likely you may not be.

On the plus side, if you’re looking to burn ninety minutes, Are You Here can help with that. Effects and atmosphere are adequate, and the lead actors are serviceable. Jacqueline Chong is too statuesque to convince as a weak character but her acting is mostly fine, while Sammy Sum is among the best in the biz at playing total jerk-offs. One gimmicky bonus: Are You Here could have been re-titled When Scary Old Ladies Attack! thanks to its canny casting of Bau Hei-Jing, Siu Yam-Yam and everyone’s favorite movie grandma Law Lan, who plays celebrity exorcist Master of Wisdom. Law has little more than a cameo, but she riffs entertainingly on her own image as the grand dame of Hong Kong horror, complete with her trademark scary voice. Sadly, the film doesn’t put all three ladies onscreen simultaneously, so we’ll just have to imagine such awesomeness for ourselves. That the imagination is more powerful and creative than Are You Here is unfortunately to be expected. (Kozo, 12/2015)

   Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen