Hey Wong Jing, you’re bringing down Patrick Kong! Who knew we'd ever say that, but Hong Kong Ghost Stories gives us cause to choose one crappy Hong Kong Cinema auteur over the other. Both quality-challenged writer/directors participate in Hong Kong Ghost Stories: Wong directs and writes the first part "Classroom," while Kong handles the same duties on second half "Travel."
The film opens with a tongue-in-cheek framing device featuring a funeral service where life-size paper figures (played by Sammy and Jeana Ho) come to life, gather paper film equipment and slate the opening of this two-part wannabe chiller. This silly opening is a nice introduction that provides both cultural and cinema context. Basically, this is a Chinese horror tale and we shouldn't take it seriously. Since this movie is by Wong and Kong, we should already know to do the latter.
"Classroom" stars Jennifer "Sister of Nic" Tse as Miss Yip, a temp schoolteacher recovering from a relationship with her abusive ex-boyfriend Chung (Pakho Chow). Unfortunately, her new assignment is Form 4 Class E, an unruly sort with a lousy reputation – which Miss Yip confirms when she catches some of the girls out on paid dates. Among them is Miss Yip's favorite new student, the quiet and nice Don-Don (newcomer Kimmy Tong).
Miss Yip wants to rescue Don-Don from this terrible life but she should worry about herself first. She becomes an immediate target of her students, and then she gets locked in the school bathroom, where the walls bleed and the metal exhaust fan comes to life and starts smashing the mirrors. Also, the stall doors open and close by themselves. And if that's not enough, Chung stalks her every evening on her way home. Oh, the horror!
By Wong Jing's legendary standards, "Classroom" isn't terrible. It is, instead, noteworthy for its complete lack of reasons to recommend it. Wong Jing sets up the story okay, but doesn't do much to create a spooky or tense atmosphere, with some of the standard fixtures of Hong Kong horror films – stupid characters, large plot holes, predictable twists – all present and accounted for.
The story is old too: creepy students, haunted classrooms – this stuff has been seen a trillion times. Jennifer Tse is easy on the eyes, but she can't handle the multiple emotions of her role, turning parts of "Classroom" into unintentional farce. Bottom line: nothing is scary or new here, so curiosity and minor actor or actress fandom is all "Classroom" has going for it.
"Travel" isn't scary either, but it compensates with pop culture references and general surprise. Chrissie Chau stars as the dead Bobo, whose funeral is attended by four "friends" (Charmaine Fong, Jacqeuline Chong, Harriet Yeung and Rose Chan) who deserve the quotation marks because they only know Bobo from a recent trip to Thailand. The film cuts between the foursome's memory of the trip and their attendance at Bobo's funeral, where they meet Bobo's estranged lover Karl (Him Law).
The nonlinear storytelling introduces us to a host of possible romantic interlopers, including cop Jack (Timmy Hung) and also Karl's wife Phoenix (Stephy Tang making a "special appearance"), who was unhappy with Karl and Bobo. Obviously. All of these potential romantic shenanigans have something to do with Bobo's passing, which is only a surprise if you're expecting real creativity. "Travel" is more clever than “Classroom” but ultimately it isn't that much better.
"Travel" gets the laughs, though. Thanks to its witty dialogue and sharp comic timing, Kong's film entertains at a consistent and surprising clip. The barrage of Hong Kong media references are funny and barbed; besides swipes at TVB and ATV, the script rips on actor Raymond Lam and even pokes fun at his tabloid rumors with cast member Rose Chan. The script's mean streak should elicit more than a few laughs from those familiar with the Hong Kong Entertainment Circle. Also, "Travel" is decently paced and manages to use Kong's fascination with flashbacks for effective storytelling. An image-busting turn from Kong's former leading lady Stephy Tang seals the deal. There's more in "Travel" that amuses than annoys.
Overall, Hong Kong Ghost Stories won’t have a big audience; non-Hong Kongers won’t really get it, Wong Jing’s work merely treads water, and the whole thing is little more than throwaway product. But Patrick Kong does go that extra mile to serve his Hong Kong audience, and that makes all the difference here. Hong Kong Ghost Stories is a fun little diversion that, considering what little it should be, is more good than it is bad. When watching or critiquing movies, it helps to be relative. (Kozo, 2011)