White Mulberry Award for First Time Director Nominee
Sugar Street Studio
糖街製片廠 (Tong Gaai Jai Pin Chong)
Hong Kong, 2021, 90’, Cantonese
Directed by: Sunny Lau
Script: Sunny Lau, Kan Pok-chuen
Photography (color): Chan Lok-yin
Editing: Thomas Y
Art Direction: Rico Cheung
Music: Lai Ying-tong
Producer: Alex Dong
Cast: Matt Chow (Pierre), Eric Kot (Boss Choi), Chan Kwok-pong (Hung Yat-cheong), Chloe So (Soie), Hanna Chan (Matiny), Yatho Wong (Gary), Martin Wong (Bobo), Wiyona Yeung (Dong Lok), Kaki Sham (Fan), Lam Yiu-sing (young Hung Yat-cheong), Susan Shaw (Auntie Eight), Bob Lam (renovator), Wilfred Lau (shaman)
Date of First Release in Territory: August 8th, 2021
Film-production woes and a dark history lead to eerie goings-on in Sunny Lau’s debut feature Sugar Street Studio. As the story starts, movie producer Pierre (Matt Chow) has a stalled project and investor Boss Choi (Eric Kot) wants his money back. Just as Choi threatens torture, Pierre sweet-talks with a new plan: The media has outed Choi’s new restaurant as haunted, so why not turn it into a haunted house? When the boss agrees, Pierre reassigns an effects crew led by prosthetics wiz Gary (Yatho Wong) to do up the place with a horror theme based on the location’s grisly past.
Thirty years earlier tragedy had struck at the site when it was a film studio, and media reports say an actor playing a clown had set fire to the place, killing himself, a lead actress and others. But when Gary and his team talk to a survivor, something feels off with the tale. And once the haunted house opens, the ghost of a woman in red not only scares the pants of visitors but also sheds light on what really happened.
Before the haunted house’s opening, Pierre had another idea: Don’t just run the scary attraction, but shoot a movie to go with it for sensational cross-promotion. And that’s pretty much what has happened with Sunny Lau’s film too. Last year the producer met with a team running their own haunted house in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay shopping district. That project, named Sugar Street Studio, had brought on board filmmakers hit by the pandemic, and together they’d applied their skills in art direction, set construction, makeup and more to make a tightly packed spookhouse with a studio-fire theme.
The potential for expanding the concept was clear – a horror flick-plus-haunted house package would stand apart from typical entertainment options, and it’d support local horror cinema at a time when mainland co-production (and its accompanying censorship rules) has slashed the number of fright films being made. And, hey, a haunted house is Instagrammable too. When Sugar Street Studio reaches Hong Kong cinemas, local moviegoers will be able to explore plot elements afterwards in the haunted house; those passing through the labyrinthine halls first can revisit material in a cinema later.
For his part, Sunny Lau delivers fast-moving horror comedy, applying snappy dialogue, pop-culture jokes and touches of romance along the way. The ghost story and its haunted haunted house mean plenty of opportunities for the supernatural, aided by impressive makeup and effects and often using the Causeway Bay attraction as a set. The film-biz angle also brings in satire, much of it through Pierre – a quick-thinking scoundrel who uses a repurposed film set as his office and can weasel through pretty much anything. Popping up too is chatter on darker instincts as the young effects makers discuss how people get ahead around them. (“Maybe to survive in Hong Kong, being mean is a basic necessity,” says one.)
Lau worked with a cast largely made up of young rising actors, including Yatho Wong, Hanna Chan, Chloe So and Martin Wong as the effects team, and Wiyona Yeung and Kaki Shum as a couple whose relationship endures in the afterlife. And the comic talents of Matt Chow and Eric Kot get a good run too. Even if Sugar Street Studio’s haunted house tie-in is a purely Hong Kong affair, viewers anywhere can appreciate emerging film talent keeping local horror cinema alive and spooky.
Sunny Lau is a film and TV writer and director, as well as a noted photographer, multimedia designer and radio and TV host. In 2001 Lau joined Eric Kot’s Double X Workshop, serving as photographer, and in 2004 he established his own creative studio What A Sunny Day to become a photographer for local music and film. Lau began writing and directing TV series in 2018, with works including Demon’s Path and A Perfect Day for Arsenide. In 2019, Lau was co-writer of the film Missbehavior, and in 2021 he made his feature-directing debut with Sugar Street Studio.
2021 – Sugar Street Studio