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Twilight Online

Eddie Cheung and Babyjohn Choi snoop for spooks in Twilight Online.


Year: 2014  

Maggie To Yuk-Ching


Fung Wai-Yuen, Tin Kai-Man, Maggie To Yuk-Ching


Maggie To Yuk-Ching


Eddie Cheung Siu-Fai, Babyjohn Choi, Lawrence Chou Chun-Wai, Edmund Poon Siu-Chung, Sandra Li, Yanny Chan Wing-Yan, Jessica Choi Ming-Fong, Aka Zhao Hui-Shan, Kabby Hui, Siu Yam-Yam, Otto Chan Chi-Kin, Catherine Chow Ka-Yee, Mimi Kung Tse-Yan, Fish Liew, Coffee Lam Yuen-Ha, Ng Pui-Fu

The Skinny: Messy retro-Hong Kong horror film that contains enough surprise and local flavor to make it a decent diversion. The use of real-life incidents is a nice touch, though the obnoxiously crappy visual effects are not. OK for what it is.
by Kozo:
Twilight Online feels like a return to nineties Hong Kong horror films Ė that is, the stuff the industry produced before the Japanese chiller The Ring broke out and defined Asian horror for a generation. The formula is easy to identify; this is a cheap, multi-genre mix of decent scares, Hong Kong-specific locations, messy plotting, annoying characters, sudden sentimentality and chintzy special effects. The film isnít entirely old school, as it eschews truly wacky shtick, but it does possess a nostalgic feeling thatís familiar if not always quality. Movies like Twilight Online used to come out twice a month, and even though some were exemplary (i.e., select films in the Troublesome Night series), most were disposable entries in a genre stuffed with them. Twilight Online demonstrates that familiar mediocrity is still mediocrity, but there are aspects of the film, from surprising emotions to unique local flavor, that make it noteworthy.

Also: Letís give Eddie Cheung some respect. The veteran actor won acting awards for Twilight Online Ė two, in fact, from the San Diego IndieFest and the Accolade Global Film Competition. Okay, neither is exactly the Cannes Film Festival, but international mention of a low-budget Hong Kong movie is so rare that we should at least nod respectfully when it happens. While not exactly giving a Lau Ching-Wan-level performance, Cheung is perfectly fine as Inspector Gu, a serious cop whoís drawn into two supernatural cases. The film opens with Gu investigating an apparent suicide in a Tuen Mun housing estate, in which someone jumps nightly from the 10th floor but nobody ever finds a body. Meanwhile, a midnight excursion to a Tuen Mun village led by radio show host Edmond Poon (an actual radio personality playing himself) uncovers some spooky shenanigans having to do with inexplicably popular high school teacher Mr. Pong (Lawrence Chou), whose entourage of female students includes at least two ardent admirers.

Soon afterwards, people start dying in the Tuen Mun village and the ensuing investigation brings in both Gu and his unofficial partner, Bee (Babyjohn Choi), an eager rookie whoís along for the ride to learn from Gu. Both cases are actually drawn from real life incidents Ė back in 2001, a double-decker bus ran off a Tuen Mun overpass onto a village below, while Tuen Munís Yao Oi Estate has seen people leap to their deaths from its dizzying heights. The use of real-life incidents and locations adds an ominous edge, though the approach is hit-or-miss as thereís less gained from naming the movie after Edmond Poonís real-life supernatural discussion radio show Twilight Online. But thatís kind of the deal with this movie: Itís overcomplicated and throws in ten zillion characters and details, to occasionally effective but mostly random effect. Writer-director Maggie To also includes nonlinear storytelling, mysterious doppelgangers, M. Night Shyamalan-style tropes and comic asides. A kitchen sink was not glimpsed, but maybe it was left on the cutting room floor.

Twlight Online is messy and somewhat annoying. The film occasionally loses track of its characters and storylines, plus it serves up a hefty dose of psychobabble that arguably makes its content suitable for the mainland. Itís slightly difficult to follow everything, but somehow all the details manage to tie together. Maggie To gives her actors and scenes enough breathing room to be effective, adding minor moments of reflection between all the frights and freaking out. The four schoolgirls following Mr. Pong, three of whom are played by members of HK girl group Supergirls, manage to be distinct, and there are some surprising emotional moments too, especially from Mimi Kung (as a resident of the cursed estate) and Mr. Best Actor Eddie Cheung. Babyjohn Choi is sometimes annoying in his sidekick role, but heís got solid comic presence. Of all the girls, Yanny Chan is the most striking as the frequently dour Kitty. Thereís even some minor satire about opportunistic Hong Kongers stuffed into this piŮata.

The script does enter ugly territory with its treatment of the mentally ill, who are portrayed almost uniformly as prone to suicide or violence. A lack of political correctness was once a prime feature of nineties Hong Kong Cinema, so nostalgia can kind of excuse this lousy detail Ė though really, itís uncomfortable no matter how you slice it. At least the film doesnít take itself that seriously Ė and hey, it shouldnít given its atrocious visual effects. Overall, nobody will confuse Twilight Online with a classic, but it has enough Hong Kong Cinema signifiers to make it a minor diversion. Itís also not for anyone who equates Asian horror with the stately scare-fests of the 21st century. Horror like Twilight Online is an acquired taste that requires forgiveness for its messier qualities in exchange for something thatís become rarer over the years: a sentimental horror film with local appeal. The glass is half-full for this otherwise average Hong Kong movie. (Kozo, 9/2014)

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