Dienstag, 11. Februar 2014

Berlinale: 那夜凌晨,我坐上了旺角開往大埔的紅van (The Midnight After) / Historia del miedo (History of Fear)

Hong Kong sci-fi /horror comedy "那夜凌晨,我坐上了旺角開往大埔的紅van (The Midnight After)" is overlong and doesn't quite know how to wrap things up in a disorderly third act. The tricky note of creepy hilarity is not always struck perfectly, partly due to the uneven acting, the spotty dialogue dub and the music that's used a bit too heavy-handedly now and then. However, for a good chunk of time, the magic is there: a deliciously evil plot with a familiar but nonetheless irresistible hook, colorful characters carefully arranged in a constellation of surprise, marvelous veteran actors like 林雪 (Suet Lam), 任達華 (Simon Yam), 惠英紅 (Kara Hui) who can be relied upon to deliver their wicked lines with utmost precision at pivotal moments, and above all the zealous, unbridled commitment of director 陳果 (Fruit Chan) to scare and entertain. For well over an hour these pieces are in place and the devilishly funny movie hits that sweet spot time and again, hard. On a technical level, the cinematography is probably too polished for its own sake but the production design and the visual effects are ace- seeing one of the most densely populated areas of the world completely deserted is just so wrong in all the right ways.

Up until its very last 15 minutes or so, Argentinian competition entry "Historia del miedo (History of Fear)" consists almost exclusively of scenes where unrelated people do chores, play pranks, idle or be otherwise occupied, all with a wooden look on their face and never giving any hint at possible connections between the activities or why we should even care. Worse still, the scenes depicting these largely unknown characters carrying out tremendously unexciting tasks are often cut off mid-action, again without warning or explanation. The utter plotlessness and an overwhelming sense of pointlessness make watching the film a vastly trying experience. Starting with the late dinner scene with an- again, completely out-of-the-blue- game proposal, writer/director Benjamin Naishtat finally displays at least an inkling of interest in building something substantial, and in those ending moments one could vaguely sense the promise of tension or harm, but then it just concludes in yet another limp question mark. One must ask what such an underdeveloped, pretentious, stylistically anemic film is doing at the Berlinale at all, let alone in competition.        

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