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Friday, May 19, 2017, 12:40
Of racism and other horrors
By Elizabeth Kerr
Friday, May 19, 2017, 12:40 By Elizabeth Kerr

The Sleep Curse Directed by Herman Yau, written by Erica Li, Eric Lee. Starring Anthony Wong and Michelle Wai. Hong Kong, 100 minutes, III. Opens May 18.

Horror gets a bad rap. True, the gory, torture porn renaissance of the mid-2000s didn’t help the genre’s image, but genuinely good horror in movies could be a great way to explore the world we live in. Let the Right One In (about bullying), The Devil’s Backbone (the horrors of war), and recently It Follows (teenage sexuality) and The Babadook (of motherhood and grief) are just a few examples of thoughtful and thought-provoking horror films, with varying degrees of blood and guts, to grace screens in the last few years. Enter into this horror climate local gore-master Herman Yau with The Sleep Curse and sketch comedian turned director Jordan Peele with Get Out

In The Sleep Curse, when Hong Kong neurologist Lam Sik-ka (Anthony Wong) isn’t teaching a university class, he’s working on a “cure” for the human need for slumber. After an old girlfriend, Monique (Joho Goh), shows up seeking help for a sleep disorder that runs in her family, it sets Lam on a path through his own history. His father Lam Sing (also Wong) was born in Japan, and during WWII was compelled to work for the occupying Imperial army and the local collaborators who rounded up young women for the comfort houses. The sins of the past were punished by a Taoist witch (Michelle Wai) forced into prostitution, and are now being visited upon the son in the present. 

Make no mistake: that Category III rating is well-deserved. The Sleep Curse is Yau and Wong in peak The Untold Story and The Ebola Syndrome form. But try as they may, Erica Li and Eric Lee’s thin script lacks the social punch of those earlier films, setting up an outré, utterly bonkers final act to fall flat thematically. The film’s strong visual aesthetic early on hints at a larger story about guilt and the nature of evil (Gordon Lam stands out as a collaborator and the real villain), and gore hounds will be rapturous at Yau’s trip to his B-movie roots, but the story meanders aimlessly until both Lams’ violent explosions. Typically, the women’s ordeal is motivation for the male lead, and Wai’s angry, stink-eye wielding witch deserved her own story — which could have been just as gory and far more empowering. 

Get Out Written and directed by Jordan Peele. Starring Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams. US, 105 minutes, IIB. Opens May 18.

However, a lack of anything significant to say isn’t Key and Peele writer and performer Jordan Peele’s problem in his debut feature. Bringing new meaning to the phrase “appropriating Black culture”, Get Out taps into the reality of race relations in America right now, and somehow explains it and illustrates it elegantly — and, yes, often hilariously. The beauty of Get Out is also in its universality; anyone who’s ever felt the sting of being the only black, Asian, gay, disabled, or LGBT person in a space where everyone is trying desperately to prove they’re not racist/homophobic/sexist/ablest will get Get Out.

The story starts with photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, Sicario) and his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams, HBO’s Girls) getting ready for a weekend at her family’s old-school estate. He asks her if they know he’s black; she argues it won’t matter. His best friend Rod (LilRel Howery) is nervous for him. Her parents, Dean and Missy (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) are the picture of liberal hospitality and white privilege, going out of their way to prove how tolerant they are at all times. Eventually, Chris starts to sense something is amiss — a gut feeling more than hard facts — and that’s when Peele turns to traditional horror for his allegory. 

Through it all, Peele proves he has a solid grounding in horror conventions, and uses them wisely and deliberately here, but also brings his satiric eye to bear. Little moments shine like beacons — trying to make a baffled Rose understand that the black housekeeper’s disapproval of his white girlfriend is “a thing”—and do more to highlight the disconnect and the everyday indignities the marginalized feel better than any op-ed piece from the last decade. Get Out is the kind of film Herman Yau made not too long ago.

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