Friday, October 23, 2015

Film Review: Tales From The Dark 1 (2013)

Tales From The Dark 1 (Review)
China/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Amazon Instant
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes
*A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!

"One great story, one decent story, and one disappointment..."

Tales From The Dark 1 is a horror anthology featuring three stories: Stolen Goods, A Word in the Palm, and Jing Zhe.

Tales from the Dark 1 does not have a frame story. Stolen Goods follows Kwan Fu-keung (Simon Yam) as he searches to escape poverty. He constantly loses his jobs, which leads him to steal funeral urns to sell back to the families. Unfortunately, he finds himself haunted by ghosts while doing so. A Word in the Palm follows Ho (Tony Leung Ka-fai), a fortune teller with the ability to see ghosts. On the day he plans on quitting his job, he crosses paths with a school girl he suspects of being a malevolent ghost with a haunting past. The film ends with Jing Zhe. This story based on villain-beating, which is essentially cursing people. Chu (Susan Shaw), a fortune telling street vendor, is confronted by an usual woman and directed to beat a group of three men and one woman.

I am a sucker for horror anthologies – I've even made a list of some of the best horror anthologies over a year ago. Tales From The Dark 1, however, falls short. Stolen Goods offers an interesting story, but suffers from convoluted storytelling and editing. I feel like I understood the gist, but most of the film was lost in translation. It often feels like it's all over the place. Aside from that, the film is far too reliant on loud noise jump-scares, which would have been acceptable if it had only focused on some suspense beforehand – it doesn't. There are some creepy visuals I actually enjoyed in this film, but it just really didn't leave an impression.

Fortunately, Tales From The Dark 1 get better during A Word in the Palm. The story is simple but effective and the storytelling is smooth. This is a fairly generic “vengeful ghost” story, but it works out in the end. It offers some chilling visuals, some jolting jump-scares, and even a pinch of effective humor. I felt this was the highlight of the film in terms of horror and storytelling. Sure, it plays it safe, but it delivers exactly what you'd expect from a classical ghost story.

The film ends with Jing Zhe. This story isn't particularly frightening, but it is certainly interesting. It had me engaged from beginning to end thanks to its concept – it has a pinch of cultural immersion. In a sense, it is a form of black magic/voodoo, but it does explain the idea of “villain-beating” very well. Like the rest of the stories, it offers some ghostly visuals and some decent suspense. This film is a little more violent, though. It's not a gorefest, but it relies on some grizzly deaths rather than jump-scares.

The acting was great. I liked all of the leads in their respective roles. Simon Yam and Tony Leung Kai-fai are fun, and Susan Shaw is very effective as the sassy fortune teller. The supporting roles are also strong. The film is often too dark for its own good – and I'm not taking subject-matter. There are some scenes that are difficult to see due to the poor lighting. Otherwise, it looks decent. The music didn't leave an impression. These short films are based on short stories by Lilian Lee – Stolen Goods didn't translate from story to film very well, but the rest are good. I suppose Simon Yam's direction (his debut, I believe) is more to blame for Stolen Goods' flaws – it's too disjointed and sloppy. Directors Lee Chi-ngai and Fruit Chan offer more coherent stories with decent scares.

Overall, Tales From The Dark 1 is a good horror anthology. I wasn't a fan of Stolen Goods, I thoroughly enjoyed A Word in the Palm, and I was at least engaged and interested during Jing Zhe. One great story, one decent story, and one disappointment — not bad, I suppose. If you enjoy horror anthologies, I think you'll enjoy this one. In fact, although I didn't enjoy it, maybe the first story in this film is more your liking. I recommend a rental for fans of horror anthologies.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

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