Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dating Death (2004)

A group of emotionally twelve-year-old friends who hate each other has a fun time vacating in the digital villa situated on a digital island that belongs to the uncle of (supposedly non-digital) rich girl Sophie (Theresa Fu). It's all fun and games until the friends decide to play the deadliest game of them all - Truth or Dare. The burning question is quite obviously who among the pretty people is crushing on whom. Turns out that every male in the room has the hots for Sophie, which leaves the only other girl in the room, Lily (Stephy Tang) in a rather bad mood, especially since she and supposed Sopie-fan Ken (Yat-long Lee) have secretly been a couple for quite some time. Even worse, Sophie confesses to her own crush on Ken! Whoa.

Lily needn't have troubled herself, though, because the next morning, Ken has disappeared, leaving behind a broken window, lots of blood and one of his hands. Oops.

One year later (Ken's body has of course never been found, or searched for), Sophie, who has spent the last year overseas, returns home. Very soon after that, each of the friends finds a friendly invitation of Ken's to visit the island where he disappeared in his or her pocket.

For some reason, they all decide to go there. Fascinatingly, room number 7 from which Ken disappeared now sports a fabulous black handprint on the ceiling. Since the guys are all still in love with Sophie, they decide to show the dubious size of their brains by sleeping in turn in the possibly cursed room. Would you believe that whoever sleeps there disappears mysteriously? Would you further believe that other mysterious things happen until everyone runs around screaming like the cast of an old Monogram picture?

Dating Death's director Herman Yau has been churning out films in various exploitation genres for more than twenty years now, some of them - like The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome - classics of tasteless yet awesome Hong Kong horror. As it happens when someone directs three or more films in a typical working year, not everything he does is really worth watching, which segues excellently into the film at hand.

There just isn't anything interesting about Dating Death. The actors are all blandly pretty and absolutely forgettable in a soap operatic way, but they don't have to play characters with more depth than being "the pretty one", "the jealous one", "the junior magician", "the buddhist coward", "the boxer" and "the guy without even that much character", so at least nobody has to do any acting he or she could fail at.

The plot side of the script isn't much better, it being at once stupid and uninteresting, while Yau's direction is as uninspired as it gets without being totally careless. Surprisingly, given Yau's background in gross out films, there isn't even much blood or vomit on display. Worse, what is there is digital, as is the film's lone cockroach. Yes, it's a Hong Kong semi-slasher without much bodily fluids or insects on display, nothing I would ever have expected to witness.

Only three things about the film are somewhat memorable (and one of them is highly spoilerish regarding the identity of the killer). The film features one scene that for some reason ends with our panicked heroes all jumping fully clothed into a jakuzi together, which probably cracked me up more than it should have (I blame Movie Stockholm Syndrome derived from the boringness of everything that came before). Then there's the perfectly reasonable moment when only a handful of survivors are left and everyone points his or her finger at everyone else and goes "You are the murderer!" - "No, you are the murderer!" and so on and so forth for about ten minutes of laughter I'm glad I didn't miss.

Last but not least (and I repeat: spoiler) is the identity of our killer: it is David Copperfield junior in another confirmation of my theory that those magicians are a rather dubious lot, what with their rabbits and swords and wildly floundering arms.

Alas, even for someone with my lowered expectations and taste for the silly and the just plain dumb, these three elements are not enough to recommend Dating Death. If you have a hankering to see what Herman Yau has been doing with his better weeks in the last few years, I can heartily recommend the (comparatively subtle) The First 7th Night and the (comparatively gross) Gong Tau.


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