Tales From the Dark 2

2013 / 90m - Hong Kong
Horror - Anthology
Tales from the Dark Part 2 poster

Of all the Asian film markets, Hong Kong may have the broadest international appeal, yet they never managed to ride along on the Pan-Asian horror wave. There are a a couple of solid HK horror flicks (Womb Ghost, Dream Home and Peter Chan's segment in Saam Gaang come to mind), but they are few and far between. So it's reassuring to see that the latest two-part anthology project coming from Hong Kong is a quality offering that is sure to please horror fans with a taste for something (slightly) different.

screen capture of Tales from the Dark 2

As the title suggests, there is also a first part, released just a month prior to this one and following the exact same concept. Both anthologies feature three short films by famous HK cinema celebrities (not all are seasoned directors), based on premises written by local author Lillian Lee (of Farewell My Concubine fame). While all the shorts are horror-themed, people not familiar with Hong Kong cinema might be a little surprised how different Hong Kong horror is from Western horror films.

The first anthology featured shorts by Fruit Chan (Hollywood Hong Kong), Chi-Ngai Lee and Simon Yam (who actually delivered an amazing short, he could become a terrific director I think), but was bogged down by some questionable comedy choices. The second anthology is more stable across the board, delivering three very different, but ultimately satisfying short films. Exactly what Hong Kong needed.

screen capture of Tales from the Dark 2

The first short comes from Gordon Chan, not a big favorite of mine but usually a safe bet for an amusing evening. I was pleasantly impressed by his entry (Pillow) though, a film that actually reminded me a lot of Oxide Pang's Mon Seung. A chilling, stylish and mysterious ghost story, shot with morbid precision and featuring a moody, atmospheric soundtrack. It's not about the scares or gore though, instead the short is grounded in an eerie mystery, trying to uncover a nasty little secret. 4.0*

Up next is Lawrence Ah Mon with his segment: Hide and Seek. The slickest, but also the weakest of the bunch. That doesn't mean Ah Mon delivers a bad short, but the result is just a little too generic for my taste. You'll get exactly what you'd expect from a ghost story set during the night in an abandoned school building. The cinematography is nice enough, the scares effective and the soundtrack sufficiently scary, but it's nothing you haven't seen before. 3.5*

screen capture of Tales from the Dark 2

The third and final segment (Black Umbrella) is directed by Teddy Robin, a pretty remarkable guy (Hong Kong doesn't have too many famous dwarfs) who disappeared from view for the larger part of the past decade. Once a prominent figure in old John Woo films (I'm talking his pre-heroic bloodshed period), he resurfaced again just a few years ago. The beginning of his short is pretty tame, following an old guy (played by Robin himself) during his last day in Hong Kong. But soon enough the atmosphere turns sour, only to end with one of the sickest and over-the-top endings I've seen in quite a while (not quite unlike Sion Sono's Tsumetai Nettaigyo). Black Umbrella is a smart and nasty little short film, with a perfect build-up and a sly contrast between the opening and climax. Not an easy feat in a film that lasts a mere 30 minutes. 4.5*

Tales From The Dark 2 turned out to be a neat surprise. Based on the list of directors (and the somewhat uneven quality of the first instalment) my expectations were quite low, but all directors turn in good segments, with Teddy Robin's short coming out as the clear winner. It's a welcome boost for Hong Kong's flailing horror cinema, showcasing a surprising maturity in the genre, something that will hopefully spark of couple of new full-feature projects that may continue the legacy of this anthology.