“Open to Midnight” is a Taiwanese ghost film helmed by Lao Jian Hua, who previously had a brush with the supernatural in 2001 with the Stephen Fung starring “Shadow”, and produced by the prolific Derek Yee. Somewhat of a throwback to the heyday of Asian spooky comedies and melodramas, the film focuses mainly on laughs and drama rather than scares, and features Pang Yu Man, Xia Yu Qiao (“Bad Moon”), television star Lee Wei (“Hi My Sweetheart”) and industry veteran Jin Gang.
The film follows Yu and Hoi, a young couple who flee the city after running into trouble with criminals, deciding to hide out in a remote village where his family own a house. Although on arrival they are disappointed to find the building abandoned and in a state of disrepair, they fix it up as a studio and set about running a photography service for the oddball locals, who warn them never to go outside after dark. Soon enough, Yu and Hoi discover the reason why, after a series of ghosts show up, asking to have their pictures taken. Although the lovers get on well enough with the spirits, things become strained when unscrupulous property developers try to get their hands on the house, forcing the ghosts to taking their haunting a bit more seriously and putting real strain on the relationship between Yu and Hoi.
It’s pretty clear from early on that “Open to Midnight” isn’t interested in being a horror film, with its ghosts being played mainly for humour and director Lao Jian Hua working in little more than a few mild frights that are unlikely to have even the most lily-livered of viewers jumping from their seats. Instead, the film spends most of its time following Yu and Hoi and their changing relationship, with the spirits quickly becoming a part of their everyday lives. Even during the later stages, when the film shifts up a gear somewhat in terms of spooky action, things never get menacing, still treating the ghosts as sympathetic characters, themselves threatened by the property development scheme. The film’s mix of romantic melodrama and gags works pretty well, and the film holds the interest after a somewhat unpromising start, building towards a surprisingly thoughtful and bittersweet conclusion. Similarly, whilst most of the twists and themes will certainly be familiar to genre fans, they’re put to effective use, and the film actually benefits from giving the impression that it was shot a good decade ago, with an amiably old fashioned feel.
Although the film was clearly a fairly low-budgeted production, Lao does a creditable job of making the best of his resources, with the village and surrounding countryside making for an atmospheric setting. Showing some good use of eerie lighting, the film successfully creates an other-worldly air, which helps the viewer to accept the presence of the ghosts early on, and despite its mostly light hearted touch, things never get too ridiculous. The special effects themselves combine makeup with some lame though fun CGI work, and for the most part are enjoyable enough, with some amusing slapstick that sits surprisingly well with the more serious territory the film gets into during the last act. Lao also throws in a few imaginative touches to help move things along at a merry pace, including the ghosts’ heads swelling up into weird balloon shapes, usually for no discernable reason other than to raise a smile.
This actually sums up “Open to Midnight” quite well, as although in the grand scheme of things it’s a fairly basic and forgettable offering, it entertains throughout in its own unambitious way. Viewers looking for a little late-1990s ghost nonsense nostalgia should certainly find it a very welcome reminder of the genre, and this in itself is enough to mark it as a bit different to most other recent supernatural films.
Lao Jian Hua (director)
CAST: Pang Yu Man
Xia Yu Qiao