|In the pantheon of Hong Kong films there are those that make it to the big screen and those that head straight to video. Occasionally, we may encounter a direct-to-video title that is more deserving of a cinematic release. However, these days it’s all too common to encounter a short term theatrical release that seems like it was meant for the direct-to-video path. Big Fortune Hotel clearly belongs to the latter category.
The story follows Man (Pakho Chau) who is in Malaysia on a musical vacation of sorts to escape a troubled relationship. He checks into an old hotel where he meets a mixture of oddball tenants including Ngau (Tyson Chak), Lung Po (Law Lan) and Bao Gung (Lo Hoi-Pang). He also encounters Siu Dip (Shiga Lin) who – as the standard plot device would dictate – turns out to be a beautiful ghost. Siu Dip was a rising starlet before she was slain some 30 years prior. Empathizing with her situation, Man and his motley crew decide to help her out by solving her murder so that she will be able to “move on”. To aid them, they contact a local private investigator (Ai Wai), but as the group begins to uncover more clues about the case, various suspects begin to turn up dead. Is Siu Dip a vengeful spirit, or is there some deeper mystery to be uncovered?
Despite the Malaysia setting, a majority of the cast has a Hong Kong pedigree. 2015 is apparently Pakho Chau’s year, with him popping up in leading roles across multiple films. Law Lan is always entertaining, but her casting here plays to type and she has the misfortune to participate in sequences where the visual effects just don’t work very well. Her character’s relationship with the hotel’s owner (Lo Hoi-Pang) alludes to a far more interesting story than what the plot actually chooses to focus on.
Tyson Chak and Alan Wan attempt to provide comic relief, but their efforts are often weighed down by the plot’s inability to address simple issues. For example, in one of the longer gag sequences, some people are pretending to be ghosts (for reasons), and others are actually ghosts. The hotel is not presented as having a reputation for being haunted, so one wonders why all these hijinks suddenly start happening once the characters show up. Still, these early elements seem somewhat interesting – until it turns out that the main plot follows the standard narrative devices used in A Chinese Ghost Story and its many clones.
Technically, the film is also a mess. In addition to the below-par visual effects, there are narrative points that defy the film’s own logic (e.g. ghosts can’t be in the sun, but comatose spirits can) and odd editing jumps (during one scene the main character and his ghostly companion are racing back on a bicycle to beat the sunrise, but in the very next scene they’re chatting casually on a swing). Typically, one can be more forgiving of such technical flaws when a movie has some great gags, or strives for some genuinely original scares.
This film, unfortunately, does neither. It attempts to walk a fine line between humor and horror, but doesn’t excel at either. By the end, it falls into mediocrity with such an overly used plot device for this genre that one wonders if any actual thought was given to the story at all. This should not be surprising given that a good portion of director Stephan Yip Tin-Hang’s filmography lies in Category III erotica. But with Category III films the narrative mediocrity is balanced by expected payoffs in other areas. Big Fortune Hotel has no such payoffs and instead coasts primarily on the talent of its veteran performers.
Oddly enough, despite the entire narrative taking place in Malaysia, the final shot of the film is of the iconic Victoria Harbor view of the Hong Kong Island cityscape – which makes no sense besides an early mention of a few characters being from Hong Kong. With no closing narration or onscreen text, it’s not entirely clear what relevance the shot holds. Perhaps it’s the filmmaker’s way of saying that some character(s) went back home, or maybe this was their method of giving Big Fortune Hotel a kind of “made in Hong Kong” stamp of authenticity. In either case it remains just another head scratching moment for viewers to cap off what will likely be seen as a less than fortunate investment of their time. (Paul Fox, 12/2015)