Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
Friday, April 28, time 00.00 AM


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The Sleep Curse

Herman Yau and Anthony Wong – the duo famed for the adults-only cinema shocks of The Untold Story (1993) and Ebola Syndrome (1996) – team up again for gory goings-on in The Sleep Curse.
It’s 1990 and Dr Lam Sik-ka (Anthony Wong) of the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Medicine is looking into ways to limit the amount of sleep people need. We sleep for a third of our lives, the neuroscientist points out, and he wants to address that waste of time and resources. But when the higher-ups at the university find his aims unnatural and unethical, they block his request for funding.
Then a woman from Lam’s past reappears with a timely proposition, and a curious research opportunity presents itself. Monique Yau (Jojo Goh), who’d dated Lam 10 years earlier, flies up from Malaysia to seek his help. Since the death of his teacher-mentor, Lam is now her only hope for investigating the grim happenings in her family. Her granddad and father both died following long bouts of not sleeping, her brother hasn’t slept for a torturous three months, and she herself suffers from “atypical insomnia”. A curse had been suspected, yet sorcery did nothing to break the chain. Perhaps Lam could find out if the cause is genetic instead.

Lam agrees to help and jets off to Malaysia, where the brother dies after fleeing his hospital. The professor sneaks into the morgue, performs an impromptu craniotomy to steal the brain, then hides the organ in a durian and couriers it back to Hong Kong for investigation. Meanwhile, Lam has been facing his own set of troubles: he’s having sleep problems of his own, and he sees spooky visions at home and at work. While Monique’s bizarre case builds, he’s also pushed to find out what could be behind his situation too. Turning to methods far removed from those of science, Lam visits a medium to try to contact his dead father.
At this point, Yau and screenwriter Erica Li take viewers along dual tracks, chronicling Lam’s 1990 research while going back to 1942 when Hong Kong was under Japanese occupation. As the narratives emerge, viewers follow not only Lam but also his dad as they piece together how present woes may relate to those of the past. Yau dials down the pace from that used in his earlier cult hits while taking a more serious approach to material like Japanese wartime atrocities and the occult, and he doesn’t hold back in the most unsettling moments. Whether depicting horrors inflicted on comfort women, setting one episode at a mass grave or getting up close for shots of dismemberment, The Sleep Curse hits viewers with highly disturbing scenes.

In keeping with the dark nature of the story, Anthony Wong gives largely sombre performances in both of the film’s eras. And he’s aided on-screen by strong supporting players. Especially striking are characters from the 1942 tale: rising talent Michelle Wai stands out in a double role as twins whose fates diverged sharply in their youth, while Lam Ka-tung is slimy as a local collaborator.
Not yet released in Hong Kong cinemas, The Sleep Curse offers aficionados of Hong Kong film’s harder edge a now-uncommon return to the world of over-18s Category III horror. Yau and his team have even pushed beyond boundaries with their violence and gore: the picture screening in Udine is the director’s cut, longer than the version that will eventually reach Hong Kong’s movie houses.
Tim Youngs
Film director: 
Herman Yau
Running time: 




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