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Documentaries about the sinister and spooky have long been popular in Hong Kong and Chinese cinema, from back in the 1980s through to the present day, most recently seen in the sadly rather lacklustre “The Unbelievable” in 2009. Category III rated “The Cases” (an odd choice of English title, given that the film’s Chinese title translates literally as the far more apt “Worship of Ghosts and Gods”) is the latest entry in the genre, traipsing around various Asian locations in search of the supernatural, and aiming to deliver real life scenes of black magic and spirits.
The film is fronted by Edmond Poon, a Hong Kong expert in all matters ghoulish and magical, and a popular personality who has made a name for himself over the years with his own radio show called “Horror Hotline”, which inspired a variety of spinoffs, books, video games and films – most notably the Soi Cheang (“Motorway”) directed 2001 outing “Horror Hotline…Big Headed Monster”, an underrated film that’s far better than its daft title might suggest. “The Cases” adds a little glamour by teaming Poon with actress Wylie Chiu (“Split Second Murders”), singer Khloe Chu, and gorgeous Malaysian model Brandy Akiko. Their journey takes them to a variety of creepy places, from Hong Kong to Japan, and of course Indonesia, where as any fan of old school Chinese horror films can attest, witchcraft and devilry are indeed rife.
There are different ways of approaching a film like “The Cases”, and what viewers take from it depends on their own disposition, and whether or not they take the subject matter seriously. For those with an open mind or a taste for the occult, the film certainly goes out of its way to be more convincing than many others of its type, packing in a parade of specialists and supposed real life exorcists, and never going too far over the top in including obviously faked footage – the film does include several re-enactment sequences, but all are clearly marked and reasonably effective. Poon is convincing and engaging as a likeable host, and the film does cover a lot of ground, geographically and supernaturally, delving into the delights of menstruation witchcraft, soul grabbing witchcraft, ghostly possession, suicide curses and more – the first earning the film its Category III rating. The production values are decent and the shooting style is appropriately journalistic, keeping things grounded and at least semi-objective.
On the other hand, for more cynical viewers disinclined to take either the film or its subject matter seriously, “The Cases” is still very enjoyable indeed and provides an excellent hour and a half of far-out schlock. Though Poon is enthusiastic and unshakable throughout, the same can’t really be said for his female co-presenters, all of whom spend a lot of the running time looking distinctly uncomfortable or scared (in particular Brandy Akiko) – or at least doing a fine job of acting like they are. This does make for some funny moments, and it’s similarly hard not to get a kick out of just how bizarre and gross some of the topics and situations are.
On the whole, the film is more gruesome than other of its type, which of course helps to up its entertainment value, though it does venture into bad taste territory in places, in particular when exploring the infamous suicide magnet Aokigahara Forest near Mt Fuji in Japan, complete with uncensored photographs of real victims. These scenes are genuinely unsettling, which to be fair is the whole point of the film, and though not exactly frightening or providing the mind-blowing proof of the otherworldly, it does a very respectable job of delivering the goods, serving up far more macabre thrills than most censor-shackled Chinese genre fiction efforts.
Though viewers determined either to disbelieve or to sit stony-faced while watching its possibly real/possibly faked investigations are probably not going to get much out of it, there’s a great deal of fun to be had with “The Cases”, and for fans of the form it should prove quite irresistible. Edmond Poon really should be on screen more, and more spooky documentaries of this kind would definitely be welcome.
CAST: Edmond Poon