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Tales From the Dark 2
Tales From the Dark 1     Tales From the Dark 1

(left) Fala Chen loves her pillow, and (right) Aliza Mo and Teddy Robin in Tales From the Dark 2.
Chinese: 李碧華鬼魅系列:奇幻夜  
Year: 2013  
Director: Gordon Chan Car-Seung, Lawrence Lau Kwok-Cheung, Teddy Robin
Producer: Matthew Tang Hon-Keung, Bill Kong
  Writer: Gordon Chan Car-Seung, Lawrence Lau Kwok-Cheung, Lilian Lee (also original story)

Fala Chen, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, Joman Chiang Cho-Man, Tony Ho Wah-Chiu, Lam Chiu-Wing, Crystal Kwok Kam-Yan, Iam Yim, Chan Fat-Kuk, Sham Ka-Ki, Kiki Tam, Pam Cheung, Tang Kit-Leung, Wong Yat-Ho, Lai Hon-Chi, Teddy Robin, Aliza Mo, Cheung Kwok-Keung, Lana Wong, Yick Tin-Hung, Wan Yeung-Ming

The Skinny: Follow-up to omnibus Tales From the Dark 1 features three horror shorts of average to better quaility. None of the shorts is as good as Fruit Chan's "Jing Zhe" from the previous film, but everything here is better than Simon Yam's and Lee Chi-Ngai's earlier segments. The final segment, Teddy Robin's unexpected "Black Umbrella", closes things with an exclamation point.
by Kozo:
Tales from the Dark 2 brings Edko Films' two-part horror omnibus series to a close, and there's good news and bad news. The good news: Tales from the Dark 2 is for the most part better than its predecessor, with a more consistent tone and fewer obvious instances of WTF. The bad news: None of the film's three segments sniffs the heights of Fruit Chan's "Jing Zhe" from the first Tales from the Dark. Also, besides one over-the-top gory scene, Tales 2 doesn't really earn its tantalizing Category III rating. Not that extreme content is necessarily better, but considering the malnourished Category III audience and the film's erotic teases throwing the fans a bone wouldn't hurt. Regardless, Tales from the Dark 2 serves a need and serves it well enough that grousing about its lack of world-beating excellence would be too much. More to the point: This movie is good for what it is.

Gordon Chan kicks off Tales from the Dark 2 with "Pillow", about Ching Yi (Fala Chen), who suffers a break-up with boyfriend Hong (Gordon Lam) that ends with him leaving their shared apartment. Days later, he's nowhere to be found and Ching Yi starts to suffer from insomnia. However, a scented pillow from a local dry good store restores Ching Yi's ability to snooze and soon after, Hong begins to visit her for regular makeup sex. Said visits, however, may be of a metaphysical nature. "Pillow" is a nifty update of classic Chinese ghost tales, except with a female protagonist and some slightly amped eroticism courtesy of Fala Chen's body double. Gordon Chan creates decent, though sometimes tediously inert atmosphere and Fala Chen is fetching as the depressed protagonist. Of particular note: the segment's resolution involves the dead sending text messages. Simon Yam's portion of Tales from the Dark 1 ended similarly, which begs the question: Are we looking at some weird new trope?

"Hide and Seek" comes courtesy of Lawrence Lau, who takes a bunch of unknown young actors and lets them loose in an abandoned school. The group intends to play games in the school after dark but run into the clearly disturbed caretaker Uncle Chan (Lai Hon-Chi) before white-faced child ghosts begin picking them off one-by-one. "Hide and Seek" offers little surprise and the kids can be annoying, and yet there's routine fun in seeing them frighten each other before getting snatched to the afterlife. The segment resembles a ghost story that you'd hear around a campfire at summer youth camp, and delivers its scares in a straightforward and unsurprising manner. Lawrence Lau eschews any postmodern commentary, delivering little more than a generic and serviceable diversion that's sometimes refreshing in its uncomplicated simplicity. "Hide and Seek" is far from the best horror short you'll see, but it does its job so it's hard to fault it.

Teddy Robin directs and stars in the closing piece, "Black Umbrella", about a curiously wise old man (Robin) who wanders Hong Kong with his black umbrella, doing minor good deeds and commenting on his place in the world. The people he encounters, including a would-be thief (Kelvin Kwan) and a beat-up prostitute (Aliza Mo), have differing reactions to his good deeds, and he occasionally hints that controlling his temper would be a good thing. Then he loses his temper AND IT ALL GOES TO HELL. For some people, anyway. "Black Umbrella" takes its cues from Chinese cultural lore and compensates for its occasional aimlessness with an intriguing premise, fine cinematography and also its ending, which puts an exclamation point on the segment and indeed the entire Tales from the Dark series. There's also minor satire in the form of Wan Yeung-Ming, who plays a parody of controversial local politician Paul Chan Mo-Po. Minor satire: always a plus.

The Tales From the Dark films arrived in Hong Kong cinemas with an overblown "quality" marketing push from Edko Films, with testimonials from actors and directors about how awesome or revolutionary their new film is. Those claims are, unsurprisingly, not validated by the final product. There's little here that hasn't been seen before, with some segments (Simon Yam's "Stolen Goods" and Lee Chi-Ngai's "A Word in the Palm") going for style or scripting over scares or substance. But the remaining four parts are decent to excellent, making this experiment in Hong Kong horror a solid success. They're no patch on the Three movies or even Herman Yau's uneven but occasionally sublime Troublesome Night films, but the Tales From the Dark films are well-produced and quite watchable exercises in horror. The simple fact that they don't make Hong Kong movies like this anymore gives them extra cred. (Kozo, 8/2013)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Edko Films Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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