t just doesn't pay to be a reporter in a horror movie
nowadays. Mixing elements of "Ring"
with "The Blair Witch Project", the Hong Kong product "Horror
Hotline: Big Head Monster" is not as silly as you might think by the, well,
silly title. The reporter here is Mavis (Josie Ho), an American reporter in Hong
Kong to explore Chinese local legend. She hooks up with Ben (Francis Ng), the
producer of the Horror Hotline radio show, and goes in search of a notorious
monster with a big head, multiple eyes, and the ability to scare people into
I know people who swear by "Ring"
as one of the scariest things they've ever seen on film. I must disagree. While
it had its moments, the film was very hard to sit through, mostly because its
horror elements didn't, in my humble opinion, make up for the long stretches of
tedium. "Horror Hotline" borrows so heavily from the Japanese film
that it's hard not to call it another "Ring"
clone, although most people seem to consider "Hotline" to be more of a
"Blair Witch" clone because of its "let's run around with a
videocamera and show everything from the videocamera's POV" ending.
Like the Japanese movie that started the craze, the mystery
in "Hotline" begins with a single event -- in this case, a phone call
to the radio show. From this moment on, it's up to our enterprising reporter
Mavis and disheveled producer Ben to seek out witnesses and, slowly but surely,
discover the tainted past of the big head monster. As has been the case with
horror movies that borrows heavily from both "Blair Witch" and "Ring",
don't expect to see everyone alive by movie's end.
While "Hotline" defies its silly title with a
moody and atmospheric and sometimes even creepy ghost story, it is still not
half as impressive as the horrific elements of "The
Eye", the movie that has set new standards for real horror
movies in Hong Kong. Actually, the most interesting aspect of
"Hotline" isn't even the hunt for the ghost, but rather the personal
lives of its two leads, Francis Ng ("Bullets
Over Summer") and Josie Ho ("Purple
It's Ben's relationship with his girlfriend Helen (Niki
Chow) and Mavis' struggles with her belief system that makes "Hotline"
most enjoyable to watch. The hunt for the legend, while being well shot and
coherently structured by director Cheang Soi, is simply not capable of keeping
our attention for very long. Soi uses a lot of moody situations and darken
camera set-ups to help build the atmosphere, and thus inform us that this is a
serious horror film. Actually, you'll notice the same mood enhancing
cinematography in all serious Hong Kong horror films nowadays.
Perennial background player Sam Lee ("Ping
Pong") appears as Sam, a witness to the existence of the big head
monster. His character ends up in a hospital where Niki Chow's Helen works.
Helen, incidentally, is also a much more interesting story than the monster
hunt. Niki Chow offers up just the right amount of sorrow and intelligence, not
to mention her suddenly parental attitude toward the comatose Sam. Chow does
impressive work here, and it doesn't hurt that she looks a lot like Hong Kong
star Cecelia Cheung. I'm looking forward to her future works.
"Horror Hotline" is not a scary film. It has some
very nice moments, but on the whole its ghost story is less intriguing than the
personal lives of the people hunting the story. The "Blair Witch"
ending is a bit lacking in that it doesn't even attempt to hide the obvious
theft, and the film does offer a number of inconsistencies in its storyline. But
it's a well-done Hong Kong horror film, and in a film industry infamous for
mass-producing junk, "Hotline" is pretty good.