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Chinese language cinema

Film review: The Tenants Downstairs - macabre humour leavens a ghoulish tale

Voyeurism, paedophilia, torture and murder are the subjects of film adapted by Taiwanese author Giddens Ko from his novel; it’s a long way from his teen blockbuster You Are the Apple of My Eye

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 4:35pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 4:35pm

3.5/5 stars

Adapted by Taiwanese author turned filmmaker Giddens Ko Ching-teng from his own novel, The Tenants Downstairs ventures into far darker territory than his blockbuster teen flick You Are the Apple of My Eye . Here he explores voyeurism, paedophilia, torture and murder, shot through with a delightfully macabre sense of humour that helps alleviate the otherwise ghoulish subject matter.

From a police interrogation room, the dishevelled landlord (Simon Yam Tat-wah) of a dilapidated tenement is grilled about his eight tenants: a divorcee and his young daughter, a family man with a secret toyboy, a reclusive otaku, a fitness-obsessed teacher, a promiscuous office lady and a mysterious waif (Ivy Shao Yu-wei) who just might be a serial killer.

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After inheriting the building from a relative, the unnamed landlord discovers secret cameras positioned in each apartment, allowing him to spy on his residents. He proceeds to take this further, using a variety of underhand techniques to deceive and manipulate his lodgers, leading to betrayals, abductions and even deaths.

Adam Tsuei Shen-dong transitions admirably from the role of producer to director, creating a suitably unsettling mood that skirts the cusp of full-blown horror. Yam is predictably game as the malevolent puppet master, drawing genuine pleasure from the horrific fates he orchestrates.

While there is definitely room for social analysis amidst the sex, violence and dismemberment, Ko and Tsuei seem content to present their material at face value – until the film’s misjudged final twist, which threatens to derail all the great work that has come before it.

The Tenants Downstairs opens on August 12

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