The third Terracotta Far East Film Festival will be held at the legendary Prince Charles Cinema in London from May 5 to May 8, 2011. The programme offers an eclectic selection of films from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan, with directors and stars in attendance. Festival passes can be purchased for £70 (£58 for Prince Charles Cinema members) and guarantee entry to all films in the programme. In the week leading up to the event, VCinema reviews three films from the 2011 Terracotta line-up.
Editor’s note: Terracotta will be screening the 2D version of The Child’s Eye
While the prolific output of the Pang Brothers – as a team and as individual directors – is often cited as an example of ‘quantity over quality’, Danny and Oxide are at least commercially consistent, with such titles as Forest of Death (2006), The Detective (2007; review here) and The Storm Warriors (2009) proving popular in their native Hong Kong and professional second-home of Thailand. While they once helped to create market trends with Bangkok Dangerous (1999) and The Eye (2002), the Pang Brothers now follow the commercial flow, so it was perhaps inevitable that these genre specialists would want a piece of the 3D action that has been luring Hong Kong audiences in the form of spectacular Hollywood imports. Budgeted at $4.5 million, The Child’s Eye was the first Hong Kong production to be shot entirely in 3D and in high definition, as with Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) and Saw 3D (2010), thereby avoiding the shortcomings of the much-maligned conversion process that was used in post-production for My Soul to Take (2010) and Piranha 3D (2010). As with The Final Destination (2009) and Saw 3D, this is also an attempt to revive a flagging franchise by applying new technology to a series that was experiencing audience erosion with each installment; The Eye was an international breakthrough for the Pang Brothers, and remains one of the most well-regarded Asian horror films of the previous decade, but the inferior follow-ups The Eye 2 (2004) and The Eye 10 (2005) diluted the brand value. The Child’s Eye has no narrative connection to the previous films, with the title merely serving as a means of combining the familiar (a recognisable horror series) with the fresh (the 3D format). Commercial considerations are also evident in the casting choices, with scream queen duties being undertaken by Taiwanese actress, singer and television host Rainie Yang, while the Hong Kong market is catered to through the presence of the ubiquitous Shawn Yue, billed as ‘special guest star’ as if to warn the actor’s fans that his screen time will be limited.
The events of The Child’s Eye take place in Bangkok, where six young people from Hong Kong are enjoying some vacation time. Of the group, the least happy to be away from home is quarrelling couple Rainie (Yang) and Lok (‘special guest star’ Shawn Yue), who are on the verge of breaking up after five years together. When political unrest reaches its peak and riots start in the street, Rainie meets up with best friends Ciwi (Ciwi Lam) and Ling (Elanne Kwong) who, along with their male companions, agree to abruptly end their vacation and head for the airport. However, the route to the airport is blocked by the protestors, so their bus driver drops them off at the Chung Tai Hotel, a run-down establishment that is charitably described by one of the group as ‘antique’ and operated by moody proprietor Chuen (Gordon Lam). When the riot reaches the street outside the hotel, Rainie inexplicably decides to get a closer look at the ‘action’, with her friends reluctantly following her. While the riot scene must have been intended as commentary on the turbulent situation in Thailand, it just comes across as a clumsy plot device; the Pang Brothers pull off a credible recreation of urban chaos – burning cars, youthful protestors who could compete with the cast of City of God (2002) in the rage stakes, police in riot gear who are ready to enforce martial law – but undermine their political concerns when Rainie and Ling see apparitions (a ghost and a floating severed hand) amid the mayhem. After returning to the ‘safety’ of the hotel, the three young men mysteriously disappear, prompting Rainie, Ciwi and Ling to search the establishment, ending up in the basement where they encounter the vengeance-seeking spirit of the Chuen’s dead wife. After a narrow escape that leaves some members of the group recuperating in the hospital, Rainie heads back to the basement and steps into a parallel universe to find the truth about the hotel’s tortured history and…’special guest star’ Shawn Yue!
While promoting The Child’s Eye, the Pang Brothers and leading lady Yang have emphasised the arduous nature of the 3D production process, explaining that it takes up to forty-five minutes to set up the camera and that performances must be timed to precision in order to ensure an effective take. These difficulties are evident in some of the more elaborate special effects sequences as the shocks of The Child’s Eye lack the sense of spontaneity that is associated with the most effective, seemingly throwaway 3D moments, while performances are somewhat stilted as actors struggle to become accustomed to working within the confines of the format. As such, the Pang Brothers only fully realise the potential of 3D technology when their actors are not in the frame, exploring the possibilities of the extra-dimension through their prowling point-of-view shots as the camera navigates the dank basement of the haunted hotel and then crosses over into a parallel universe. These shots are both well-executed and occasionally eerie, with the directors making use of the corners of the frame to find dread in every nook and cranny of the basement, while unsettling sound effects add to the sense of discomfort. Unfortunately, this fairly subtle blend of set design and computer generated elements is not maintained in the final reel which lurches into on-the-rails video game territory with an onslaught of sub-par graphics; the Pang brothers fail to fully integrate these effects into the narrative, which means that the conclusion of The Child’s Eye plays more like a demo reel for technological development. In terms of trying to combine the commercial appeal of 3D with the characteristics of national horror cinema, The Child’s Eye is comparable to Takashi Shimizu’s recent 3D foray The Shock Labyrinth (2009) in that it exhibits an awareness of the market (3D effects, pretty actresses in peril, ‘special guest star’ Shawn Yue) while fumbling the core elements (human error, sense of desolation, sense of isolation) that would elevate proceedings from a series of jump-shocks to something more seriously scary.