Supernatural movies, featuring ghosts, “Geung si” (hopping vampires, “Jiangshi” in Mandarin) and other entities are an important part of Hong Kong Cinema and its cultural heritage. “Encounters of the Spooky Kind” (1980), “Mr Vampire” (1985), “Rouge” (1987), “A Chinese Ghost Story” (1990) are only some of my favorite unmissable ones from the 80’s and 90’s.
Genre-bending movies, often blending horror, comedy, romance and kung fu, they are now an endangered species. After Hong Kong’s handover in 1997, many local filmmakers started making co-productions with the Mainland, where the supernatural films are considered a forbidden subject; therefore, they simply don’t get made anymore, except for some rare and brave case. In fact, those kinds of films have turned into a sort of statement by filmmakers that are committed to making Cantonese language films for distribution in Hong Kong and outside, but not the Mainland.
Some of the post-1997 local horror movies include the charming “My Left Eye Sees Ghosts“ (2002), and most recently “Rigor Mortiis“ (2013) (an affectionate tribute to “Mr Vampire”), “Keeper of Darkness“ (2015) and “Vampire Cleanup Department“ (2017). Director Yan Pak-wing is on a mission to offer more choices to the contemporary audiences, bringing supernatural movies back in the movie theatres. After co-directing “Vampire Cleanup Department“, he is now back at it with “Hotel Soul Good”.
Nothing comes for free, and Katie (Chrissie Chau), a powerful hotel executive with money, career and the “right” boyfriend, had to work hard to achieve her lifestyle goals. Orphaned at a young age by a car crash that killed her whole family, she has found solace in studying and working strenuously, looking always straight ahead and never back.
But fate can be unpredictable and one unlucky (or maybe not?) day she is unexpectedly fired from her job and left by her boyfriend at the same time. As if it wasn’t enough, on her way back home, while helping a mysterious fortune teller, she is knocked down by a car and taken to hospital where she has a near-death experience. After regaining consciousness, Katie discovers she has acquired the ability to see ghosts and, although jolly and benign entities, three of them (Eric Kot, Maggie Siu and Richard Ng) seem to be particularly intrusive.
The three introduce Katie to John (Louis Cheung), a medium whose body is routinely possessed by the ghosts to enable them to communicate with their still-living friends. With the help of Katie’s management experience, the gang decide to revamp a small hotel with the unique selling point of being … hunted; something that will soon became the newest social media craze.
A mix of genres, in the best of Hong Kong traditions, “Hotel Soul Good” has lots of playful ghosts and comedy moments, a big heart, a pinch of romance and not much horror – at least in the scary kind of way – but instead few bits of deliciously dark humor, like John trying to open his third eye self-inflicting a near death experience.
The focus of the movie is on Katie’s and John’s personal paths to re-assessment of values and priorities. Some things are worth keeping and treasuring, but they also need to let go on other strings, to be fully ready to move on. They follow this path as distinct individuals, and – thankfully – romance is left in the air, it may or may not happen. Sure thing is they have chemistry.
The early Katie is a product of the modern materialism, but nothing she can buy or achieve with her harsh determination can help her to fill the void left by the death of the loved ones. Memories linger around like ghosts watching over us, and the film urges us to search for our benevolent ghosts, embrace them and live with them.
“Hotel Soul Good” has indeed embraced its own “ghosts”, yearning for the glory days of Hong Kong supernatural movies, and the vintage feeling is properly delivered by the low-tech rendering of the entities; nothing more that lurid costumes and votive paper props. But it’s the presence of lots of familiar faces from the golden age, in the supporting roles, that really hits the nostalgia spot. Richard Ng, of course, but also Vincent Wan Yeung-ming in the role of a charming Uncle, Helena Law Lan as the fortune teller and Susan Shaw Yum Yum in a touching episode mid-film, to mention only some. On the younger side, Chrissie Chau and Louis Cheung are very believable; they make a good team and they are fun to watch.
Heart-warming, funny and affecting, “Hotel Soul Good” is a welcome vintage treat with an evergreen soul.