Haunted Karaoke (1997)
Directed by: Billy Tang
The victims of a karaoke bar fire comes back during the yearly ghost-festival to claim revenge on those that staged the incident. The way to go about it turns out to be using a pair of bumbling cops (Michael Tao and Wayne Lai) to lure the triads into a trap...
On paper the lowest Billy Tang went in his post-Cat III era, where he gav us his witty best in Sexy And Dangerous, seducing us fairly well in Wild and executing a standard prison flick with the male lead from Lust, Caution. For 1997's Haunted Karaoke, he ended up in Wong Jing's hands and amidst the smell of something wildly....low. Low-budget in this case and obviously far from a good film based on the title alone, Tang has some tricks up his sleeve that warrants a closer examination. Subsequently conjuring some creepy atmosphere in the on paper equally born to be a disaster of a flick Dial D For Demons, in Haunted Karaoke the ultimate narrative design is really all over the place and only partly satisfies. Unexpected initself.
Tang can add some early images to a visual show reel of his as he effectively drops hints of the events that brought down the titular karaoke bar (reportedly based on a real life story). Set at the Ghost Festival in July, gates of hell are wide and opening of the movie certainly spells out an attempt anyway at a serious horror flick. Cut to a desire from executive producer Wong Jing to spice things up with painfully unfunny back and forth between the leads, consciously Michael Tao's Chor Leung is portrayed as less of a womanizer while his partner, Wayne Lai's Chicken Wing is being the coward. Fairly useless cops with little important work to do, brutality towards women rears its head but relatively little Wong Jing insistence takes over. Instead, the cheap, green light scheme signals when we're about to enter ghostly mayhem but no one should expect this ride to be wild...yet.
Stale is rather a quality applied to it as leads Tao and Lai run around shouting "WAAAAHHH!" a lot (dialogue accounting for at least 30% of the script). But this insistence at least rises above any comedy vignettes earlier and Tang gets our green light of approval therefore when thinking of that comparison. Haunted Karaoke so needs its pace and although we wish for low-budget gore to take center stage, at most we get haunted microphones trapping Frankie Ng's character while the ghost munch away on his body, off-screen. Shame.
But bearable it sort of becomes, even the interplay between Tao and Lai although their buddy cop team-up merely gets one laugh from the belly and up. The way Haunted Karaoke transforms into that unexpected grade of bearable and even surprisingly kickass is thanks to Kingdom Yuen appearing as a torn up ghost in the most grating of ways. Hinting at a slightly bloodier, black side to the flick, Tang logs some odd moments here and there as he goes along and some are even well-honed crowd-pleasing moments.
Although copying a scene from Poltergeist, our begging for him to keep up pace finally comes true (but the flick could've used a 10 minute editorial chop). Dividing his time between the dark plot point that means the cops have to basically support murder, even cheap gore appears and boy is it fun watching Wayne Lai have pressure put on the wound where his thumb once was, with basically a clothes pin. And it all helps as Tang actually seems to receive a special effects budget for his final reel as here intestines and meat fly while the usage of spiritual bullets gets the ol' slow-motion used to fairly fun effect. Again, the key to Haunted Karaoke is to expect the worst and for both followers of Billy Tang's career and general cult fans, this flick manages to offer up enough above that expectation, for the cheap price of admission.
Universe presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.71:1. The transfer showcases little print damage, generally colourful scenes and sufficient sharpness.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track uses the center channel merely and appears clear throughout. A Mandarin 2.0 option is also available.
The English subtitles are coherent and the odd dip into errors doesn't harm this kind of flick. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Standard Universe extras appear, starting with trailers for Haunted Karaoke, Hot War, Enter The Eagles and Extreme Crisis. Star's Files for Jane Chung and Wong Jing are amusing little musings on their careers, especially in the case of the former.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson