Film review: The Sleep Curse – Anthony Wong, Herman Yau reunite for grotesque horror that made them cult movie heroes
A captivating opening, featuring an insomniac psychopath, a stolen brain and a durian gives way to excessive flashbacks, so that by the time the horror kicks back in again, this film’s become a gore bore
Let’s face it: with his outspoken political stance, Anthony Wong Chau-sang doesn’t stand a chance of landing a lead role in any Chinese-funded movies in today’s much politicised show business world. So why shouldn’t the actor dig deep into his repertoire and give long-time collaborator Herman Yau Lai-to just the raving madman he needs – by reviving the cult horror brand they owned with The Untold Story (1993) and Ebola Syndrome (1996).
The Sleep Curse begins in truly captivating fashion, as we discover from raw video footage how a Malaysian Chinese family patriarch gradually transforms into a violent psychopath after he’s been struck with a curse that puts him in a perpetual state of insomnia.
The audience is then introduced to Hong Kong neuroscientist Lam Sik-ka (Wong), who is approached by the man’s younger sister (Malaysian actress Jojo Goh) to find the cause. The early appearances of a scar-faced woman in Lam’s vicinity hint at the film’s supernatural roots, while the utterly ridiculous manner in which he steals the victim’s brain and smuggles it back to his laboratory – with the help of a durian – promises much exploitative fun to come.
It’s unfortunate that this 1990s-set segment soon gives way to a lamentably drawn-out back story, set in Japanese-occupied Hong Kong during the second world war.
There, Wong plays a second role as Lam’s single father, who saves a young woman (Michelle Wai Sze-nga, Show Me Your Love ) from the Japanese army but attracts the wrath of her one-eyed twin sister (Wai also), who becomes a vengeful ghost once she dies as a “comfort woman” to the occupiers. Even with Gordon Lam Ka-tung adding colour as a cold-blooded Chinese collaborationist, it’s clear to all that this is a simple story laboriously told.
Co-screenwriters Eric Lee and Yau regular Erica Li Man ( Shock Wave , Nessun Dorma , The Mobfathers and so on) threaten to put the sleep in The Sleep Curse with such excessively long flashbacks to explain the origin of the curse – but you could make a wild guess about the family heritage of the movie’s first victim and you would quite probably be right.
The film only snaps back to life with an avalanche of decapitation, mutilation and cannibalism in its last reel. For those expecting a gory good time throughout, as in Yau’s extreme horror classics from the ’90s, that is too little, too late.
The Sleep Curse opens on May 18
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