Good Take! (Pai de bu cuo)

Hong Kong (2016) Dir. Various

Anthology films are hard for a reviewer to grade – at least I think so. Being comprised of individual shorts, often on a set theme, in this case it is they are all set in Macau, do you rate it lower if not everything connects or is there room to offer high praise if one segment is so masterful on its own?

Opening this collection, is Concrete, directed by Derek Tsang. Rookie cop Yin Tin (Pak-ho Chau) is sent by his senior partner Ho Wing (Alex Fong) to investigate a domestic abuse call alone. When Yin Tin arrives, he is greeted by a teen girl (Yanny Chan) who refuses to let him in until her mother (Cecilia Yip) insists she complies. But Yin Tin soon wished she hadn’t.

The first of three spooky flavoured clips, this is all about the horror with a rushed finale to reveal in the mystery behind the actions of the creepy mother and daughter. The title is a bit of a giveaway as to the fate that befalls Yin Tin, even if the idea it takes place on the seventh floor of an apartment block is a bit of a stretch. I’m not entirely convinced by the motives of this evil duo, which I suspect is a riff on the restless spirit trope Asian horror is fond of.

Strong performances, a suitably unnerving atmosphere, and sense of dread, bolstered by nicely sinister performances by Yip and Chan make this a decent opener. Oh and Derek Tsang is the son of Hong Kong legend Eric Tsang, and Tsang junior also makes an acting appearance in a later segment.

Next is A Banquet directed by Henri Wong. A father (Eddie Cheung) and is taking his young son (Hon-San Yip) to a wedding banquet, which the boy’s mother (Jessica Hester Hsuan) is already present at and waiting their arrival. Not really much to this one except for the twist at the end which I didn’t see coming, while the video game wraparound makes no sense. The least essential submission here.

Back to the macabre for the third film, Good Take, directed by Chun Wong. A former actor Taylor (Lo Hoi-pang) always felt underappreciated but his wife Luna (Chiao Chiao) always supported him. Except she is dead and Taylor still shares a bed with her corpse. When his neighbour gets into trouble with a loan shark (Lam Suet), Taylor gets a chance to play the hero for real.

Different but wonderfully underplayed, there is a clever scene where Taylor and Luna are watching a film on TV which Taylor was in. When they look away, in the background the scene continues, showing what happened off camera when the director berated a young Taylor for his poor performance. Whilst not a true horror, the pallid corpse of Luna and Taylor’s devotion to her is decidedly grim, like the mole on Lam Suet’s face.

Film number four is the artiest entry. The Solitudes from Vernie Yeung mixes black and white and colour, sometimes in the same scene, for a tale of revenge set in Macau’s seedy underbelly. Fong (Cherrie Ying) is a hard working nurse visiting the city where her cousin Anna (Hei-Yi Cheng) works as a prostitute, and ends up being forced to work for Anna’s pimp Ze (Sam Lee).

You see, for the likes of Ze, money is everything and Fong can earn much more as a hooker than a nurse can, which is more money in scumbag Ze’s pockets too. Being a short film, Fong quickly succumbs to her new lifestyle; the film actually opens with her turning on Ze before we rewind to learn what led to this. Nothing comes of Anna’s inexplicable betrayal of her cousin but to say Fong’s revenge is sweet is an understatement but don’t be under any illusion it is pretty, and Ze certainly deserved it.

Not only does this clip stand out visually, but also in its editing, camerawork, structure, and grittiness with its raw, unflattering look at Macau’s decadent social excesses. Ying is great as the vengeful Fong and Lee is thoroughly hateable as Ze, these performances complimenting the artistic presentation from newcomer Yeung.

Closing this compilation with a much lighter outing is Wong Ching-po’s We Are Ghosts. A young woman (Charlene Choi) arrives in a dingy part of Macau to claim the property left to her by her late grandmother. She is met by a local (Stanley Fung) who warns her the building is haunted and sure enough she is terrorised by ghosts and creepy beings. When a gangster (Derek Tsang) tries to buy the property, the girl uses the ghosts to scare him off.  

Perhaps I should elaborate – the ghosts are in fact a group of out of work actors whose careers have suffered ever since Hong Kong filmmakers fled to the mainland, where horror films (when this was made) aren’t appreciated. Everything about this segment is designed to end this omnibus on a upbeat note, and does just that but from running a little longer than it needed to, especially with the effete ghost hunters, it runs the risk of feeling anti-climactic.

However, it has the benefit of the all-star cast of Hong Kong veterans alongside Fung, such as David Lo, fun lo, Ma Tai-Lo and Yuen Cheong-Yan, and of course Charlene Choi which is always a bonus for me! It’s fun enough if cheesy and camp with jokes that don’t work outside of Hong Kong, but it is easy to get the gist of it and embrace the silliness of it all.

Ultimately an entertaining way to spend 95-minutes but if Good Take! was supposed to be a tribute to or celebration of Macau, it doesn’t feel like one. Four out the five films work very well but the pick of the crop is unquestionably The Solitudes from Vernie Yeung who sadly has yet to follow this short with a feature length film, which I’m sure would be quite something.

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