Amazing Stories (1994)
Directed by: Jin Ao-Xun
Three Category III rated horror stories into one, the format is popular but also executed with a penchant for the lazy sometimes (I don't imagine Troublesome Night 10 or 16 had any artistic effort put into it). Amazing Stories from Taiwan does try however but ultimately only have a handful of good intentions shown off to good effect.
Joyce Ngai appears across all 3 stories, starting in the first where she's the heavily abused wife of Chao (Lee Ka-Ting). She finds comfort in a doll (affectionately named Baby Doll) and the connection to her retarded brother. During yet another exercise in wife abuse, she calls for help but her brother attempts to fetch the doll for her instead. As it's thrown into the water, her brother drowns in the process. But his spirit is transferred into the doll and now the wife has a protector from Chao. Running below 20 minutes, Jin Ao-Xun does the correct thing by doing basic setups as no story attempts great character depth. We basically sniff out the comeuppance angle to this short and what could've been cheesy once we get a sense of the doll "coming to life", turns into a decent exercise into atmosphere and dread. Especially the shot of the dead brother on the laundry wheel is eerie stuff done with a sincerity for the age old story this is. Smoking down the set quite extensively and employing drab colours, it may be short and lacking emotions but it's also technically sound for a cheap short out of Taiwan cinema that didn't make a habit of scaring us. We are.. a little bit.
The Category III rating is definitely warranted in our second short that suffers quite greatly from a general vagueness and lack of effective payoff. Jackson Lau is a grave digger who as a child got revived by a spirit after being beaten to death by an animal trapper. In another house, a man and a woman are having passionate sex but she's a vampire/wolf/demon in disguise and attacks the latest male she's attracted. The grave digger seems scheduled to go next. Although the best imagery is present here that takes the film far away from any A Chinese Ghost Story clone-feeling to a rough horror one (the image of Joyce Ngai fully transformed is memorable, despite being a long shot), beyond the basic setup director Jin Ao-Xun doesn't offer up much of anything. The production values (on a budget) continue to impress however and the use of music is unusually atmospheric coming from cinema that would rather steal it from elsewhere. The sex echoes the famous scene from Alan Parker's Angel Heart but as Joyce Ngai attempts to seduce her next victim, there's serious lack of tension that gets even farther away from that once we get the final push and payoff. Maybe Ao-Xun shouldn't have let us get a close look at matters as the teeth out of all things that Joyce Ngai has looks ridiculously cheap.
The longest of the stories concerns the owners of an inn, the wife Chin Hua (Ngai) and elderly husband Chang (Tin Ching). She's feeling the sexual frustration and he as well as he wants her to bear a child. The arrival of soldier Shiun (O Chun-Hung), who also begins working at the inn, sets off sparks in her though and we're therefore closing in on a plot involving murder. Yep, it's pretty predictable stuff blessed with a way too generous running time. Again the quick, basic setup of the problems inherited within the relationship is very much sufficient but the build up within Joyce Ngai's character directed towards Shiun is slooooow. All the more so because we can easily sense where we're headed and even the twist isn't particularly riveting.
Jin Ao-Xun also seems to have lost interest in the look and feel of the movie by this point and although the total of Joyce Ngai's actions in this last short is equal to dramatically effective on paper, Ao-Xun can't make the push into powerful here either. Amazing Stories gets an English title that rises expectations and although for one and a half story the film is onto something in terms of horror and technical execution, it stops being admired quite early on as a matter of fact.
The DVD (Wing Artist Entertainment):
Video: 1.65:1 non-anamorphic widescreen.
Audio: Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 and Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0.
Subtitles: Imbedded English and Chinese.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson