When a pair of 3-D glasses mysteriously slide out of a DVD case, you know you've got worries. You see,Wai Keung Lau's The Park (Chow lok yuen) has a little feature in which a pair of 3-D glasses flash in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, alerting you that it's time to don the red and blue spectacles. It'd have been nice to know this, but seeing as how most of the liner notes were written in Chinese and Mandarin symbols, I had to find out their use through trial and error. At first, I put the glasses on when the symbol that apparently meant to take them off flashed, and spent several minutes wondering why nothing was in 3-D. By the time I did figure it out, I'd had such a fucking headache that I no longer cared, and watched the blurry 3-D segments without the glasses. When I did manage to catch a glimpse of things in 3-D, it looked pretty much as blurry as it did without the glasses, and the effect was...well...complete rubbish. The film, however, is actually really quirky and a lot of fun.
The Park focuses on Yan (Chan) and her quest for her brother. You see, he had recently disappeared while investigating a haunted amusement park where the two witnessed the death of a young girl nearly fourteen years before. Now, Yan and her friends decide to venture into the park (at night, no less) and search for her missing sibling. Once inside, the group are accosted by a down syndrome caretaker, a bald boy in a diaper who seems to live off of garbage, and all manner of spooky dead clowns, living wax statues, and swishy special effects. I think this may have originally been a television film of some sort seeing as it often fades to black as though hitting a commercial break, and then fades back in on the same folks getting out of the "cliffhanger" we'd last seen them in. Whether or not that's the case, I did notice that the film is much less violent than the usual Asian horror stuff, but does feature a lot of truly intense and spooky moments (even though, as a whole, much of the film is played for laughs).
The Park stars an assemblage of "big" Chinese stars, including model/singer Bobo Chan, model/singer Matther Paul Dean, model/singer Tiffany Lee...do you see a pattern emerging here? I guess this is the Asian horror equivalent of I Know What You Did Last Summer, with all sorts of hot (both commercially and literally) young guys and gals running about and screaming their heads off. This is also one of the more distinctly Asian horror films as its subject matter and resolution are based heavily in Chinese spirituality and paranormal hoodoo. If the viewer keeps that in mind, they are more apt to enjoy The Park, since, to western eyes, much of what goes on in the film looks rather silly.
The dialogue is typically Chinese. While Japanese films are known for a rather sparse amount of chit-chat, Chinese screenwriters (much like their western counterparts) tend to have their characters talk up a storm. I find that it usually doesn't really stand out unless there's a "tragedy" of some sort, and then all emotional hell breaks loose. The Chinese love their death scenes long, talkative, and extremely melodramatic, and The Park serves up plenty of those. Once again, this is simply a cultural thing, and regular viewers of Hong Kong action cinema know what I'm talking about. I usually don't have a problem with a lot of dialogue, but, in the case of Asian cinema, the translations are usually so weak that the less said the better. As a result, The Park is rife with all manner of "Engrish" (that oftentimes hilarious new language that is born of poor translation) resulting in a few inappropriate chuckles.
Director Wai Keung Lau shot The Park on Digital Video and it looks really amazing. The only exceptions are during daylight sequences, where contrasts are a bit off. However, once we get into the haunted park at night, the film is gorgeous, vibrant, and atmospheric. Lau uses a lot of conventional scare tactics, as well as jerky camera moves, Blair Witch style P.O.V. shots, and good ol' fashion suspense to keep things tense.
The only major problems I had with The Park were the aforementioned 3-D bits. They were unnecessary and the effect wasn't worth the hassle. The good news is that there are actually only a few scenes. The bad news is they happen during the film's tenser moments.
The DVD from Tai Seng is an import deal, Region 0 NTSC. It's loaded with extras, but only the cast bios are available in English. There's behind-the-scenes stuff, making-ofs, interviews, and all manner of goodies, but if you want to enjoy them I suggest brushing up on your Cantonese or Mandarin because those are the only languages those are presented in. For an import disc, The Park was remarkably cheap ($15.99!), especially for a quality set like this.
Fans of Asian horror flicks will eat this one up, seeing as how they are most likely used to the genre's quirks, but those of you who haven't really been exposed to these kinds of films may suffer a bit of culture shock. Still, it's a great looking flick that's a lot of fun, and definitely worth a peek, especially if you're on the prowl for something a bit different.