Saturday, September 01, 2007

NARAKA 19: Trapped in Hell

NARAKA 19 (HK horror thriller in Cantonese)

Cast: Patrick Tam, Chun Tin You, Shaun Tam, Bonnie Sin and Gillian Chung
Director: Carol Lai Miu Suet
Time: 95 mins
Rating: * (out of 4)

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? If you are wondering why this Hong Kong Cantonese production has a Malay title, it is because the story is about a mobile phone game called ‘Naraka 19 – The 19th Gate Of Hell’. The story is adapted from a best-selling Chinese novel written by Choi Tsun. The novel has reportedly sold more than two million copies in China over the last two years and has now been translated into many languages for distribution worldwide.
No, I haven’t read the book but if this movie is anything to go by, you won’t find people queueing up at the book stores like they did for the Harry Potter editions. Also, those who are excited by Gillian Chung's name in the cast, let me clarify that the famous Hong Kong singer-turned-actress does nothing impressive in the movie. Watching "Naraka 19" is like being trapped in the 19th level of Hell…

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The movie follows four female students – Rain (Gillian Chung), Mandy (Xian Seli), Eva (Lee Man-kwan) and Violet (Vincy Chan) (pictured above) – as they move into their dorm on the first day at the university. However, instead of preparing for their studies, the girls are more preoccupied with sending SMS on their mobile phones. One night, Rain receives a text message from Eva, asking her to meet at an abandoned building. For some unknown reason, Eva wants Rain to take her picture at the building, believed to be haunted by the ghost of a girl who had committed suicide there.
The next day, Rain watches in horror as Eva kills herself in a most gruesome and painful manner. When a police officer arrives to investigate the case, Rain discovers a cryptic message, ‘Game Over’, on Eva’s mobile. Yes, she has been playing the deadly game on her phone – and soon the other girls, including Rain herself, are ‘forced’ to play too. Are they really victims of the game? Or does the sinister-looking Professor Yim have anything to do with the deaths?

OOHs & YUCKs: According to Chinese folklore, hell has 18 levels – each for a particular sin. Can this so-called 19th level be specially reserved for those who fiddle obsessively with their mobile phones? Or is it for those who have nothing better to do than watch this amateurish production? That is what it feels like, with its unheard-of cast that seem unsure of their roles, and a story that drifts aimlessly in search of a plot. Indeed, there are some above-average CGI scenes of Hell, especially the one in which hands protrude from walls, clasping at their victim. However, for the most part of the movie, director Carol Lai opts for clichés - like dripping faucets and loud music – to grate our nerves. Some of her attempts are more funny than scary.

THE LOWDOWN: Is there a ‘pay-off’ for all our tolerance of this pseudo-horror? Maybe, if you consider the cameo by Gillian Chung's Twins partner, Charlene Choi, at the end of the movie a reward. Others may call it ‘fraud’.


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