Sunday, March 31, 2024

Back Home

Just me for Back Home last night, which isn't necessarily surprising, as it came out in Hong Kong last September, and even if you presume that streaming services and people no longer having machines to play bootleg DVDs has diminished piracy to the point where it's not a major concern, this is way past the point where you'll be seeing much about it in any media you follow. Presuming that exists; I don't know where people get that sort of movie news from any more. It seems to be how distributor Illume works, and I'm kind of lcurious if it's working out for them.

As for the movie itself, it's apparently part of a new-filmmakers initiative in Hong Kong, and I think we've had a few more come over. It's no longer quite so much the case as it was a few years back that Hong Kong filmmakers don't work in Cantonese unless they have something Hong Kong-specific to say, I was actually kind of surprised by the number of comments on Letterboxd about it having a lot of pointed commentary! I suppose I've been trying to impose that sort of take on movies a bit likely - sometimes, to paraphrase Freud, an umbrella is just an umbrella - because it can be kind of too-easy for me as an outsider to try and force a movie into the one frame of reference I have about What's Going On There Now and sound like a fool. But, I suppose, even if there wasn't an umbrella that shows up, there people cutting out tongues and looking to leave town probably adds up to something!

On the other hand, it works pretty well as a horror movie even if you don't entirely get that particular bit of context, not a bad appetizer for Exhuma if you'd like a warm-up in terms of things starting just kind of weird before getting wild.

Back Home

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 March 2024 in AMC Causeway #3 (first-run, DCP)

The basic idea behind Back Home is a pretty basic hook for a horror movie - traumatized person returns to where the thing he repressed happens and soon finds it overwhelming him - but it is, of course, what you do with this material that matters. For quite some time, it looks like writer/director Tse Ka-Ki (credited in English as "Nate Ki") isn't doing enough, and I'm not entirely sure whether the last act is making up for lost time or everything clicking into place.

Our homecomer is Lai Heung-Wing (Anson Kong Ip-Sang), "Wing" for short, who went to live with his uncle in Canada as a child and is still there, twenty years later, until he gets a call saying that mother Tang Wai-Lan (Bai Ling) is hospitalized after an apparent suicide attempt - the doctor says her comatose state is like her soul has already left her body, and, also, her tongue is gone. Not knowing how long he'll be there, he settles into his mother's grimy apartment - the same one she lived in when he left, with the elderly couple who run a stall selling items for burnt offerings (Tai Bo & Helen Tam Yuk-Ying) recognizing him. He soon discovers that the little kid who lives next door, Yu (Wesley Wong) is seeing ghosts the way he used to when he lived there, that the entire seventh floor is unoccupied and has been for years (a rarity in crowded Hong Kong), and that his mother's attempted suicide was neither the first. It also won't be the last.

If nothing else, Back Home is dripping with good scary-movie atmosphere, in pretty much every way that it can be: It's got phantoms that manifest as shadows so dark as to seem two-dimensional (other than solid-white eyes) on the one hand, and colorful paper constructs whose design is just abstracted enough to make a mockery of reality on the other, even before getting to the little paper people inside something you know exists to be set on fire. That bit sticks in one's head just enough that Tse circling back around later is surprisingly effective, and he also makes use of the mother's apartment and the building around it being just the right state of run-down to create an appropriate sense of desperation but also left enough room for both the seventh floor and what's going on in broad daylight to be creepy in other ways.

There's also a nice performance from Anson Kong, another member of the Canto-pop group from which The Moon Thieves drew much of its cast; he manages to make Wing seem shrunken and timid as a result of what's happened to him without being pushed to the side by the bigger performances from Bai Ling and others. I'm curious as to how Canadian he reads to Hong Kong audiences here, especially since part of what I liked about Wind, from an American point of view, is that he also frequently doesn't seem sure if something's weird or he just no longer fits in.

I suspect that this movie's biggest problem is that it counts down from seven days but does not have seven days' worth of stuff to do - it had me cranky and impatient and wondering why this guy doesn't just check into a nice, non-haunted hotel for roughly half its length. Once it gets down to two or three days left, though, I found myself squirming and saying stuff was fucked up in a good way, seeing how it fit together just well enough to see the shape of what's going on, at least enough to be creeped out

Maybe it makes more (or less) sense to folks from Hong Kong. For me, it kind of lands in the gap between where I enjoy the clever and meaningful construction and where the assorted scary stuff gets my skin crawling such that it doesn't matter why or how, but I kind of like what it's going for regardless.

No comments: