An Inspector Calls (浮華宴, Raymond Wong & Herman Yau, 2015)

Inspector Calls poster 1J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls found itself out of favour until a phenomenally successful stage production brought it back into the national consciousness in the early ‘90s, but even if some decry its inherent melodrama as a relic of another era the play’s comments on the entrenched classism of British society sadly still ring true. An Inspector Calls is many things, but one thing it defiantly is not is funny – a series of concentric tales of betrayals and oppressions, Priestley’s drama lays bare the callousness with which the privileged bolster their position through the story of one faceless factory girl standing in for an entire social class whose lives are often at the mercy of those “above” them.

In adapting Priestley’s play as a Chinese New Year movie (a strange concept in itself), Herman Yau and Raymond Wong relocate to contemporary Hong Kong, re-conceiving it as a broad comedy of the kind one might expect for the festive period. The setup is however still the same. The Kau family will be receiving a visitation – this time from Inspector Karl (Louis Koo Tin-lok) who has some difficult news for each of them. Three hours previously, a young woman committed suicide in her apartment by drinking bleach, taking the child she was carrying with her. Inspector Karl views this as a double murder and, based on the diary they found at the crime scene, has brought the reckoning over to the Kaus’.

The Kaus, at the present time, are preparing an engagement party for daughter Sherry (Karena Ng) who will be marrying the handsome younger brother of a factory owner, Johnnie (Hans Zhang Han). What no one can know is that the family business is going under, the Kaus are broke, mum and dad don’t get on, and all of this finery is merely rented affectation. The only member of the family who still seems to have something like a social conscience – Tim (Gordon Lam Ka-tung), the 27-year-old younger son, is viewed by all as a feckless and naive hippy, hiding out in his childhood bedroom, still all fluffy cushions and toy soldiers.

As the Inspector explains, he holds Mr Kau (Eric Tsang Chi-wai) responsible because the woman once worked in his factory and he fired her for participating in a strike for better pay and conditions. Sherry got her fired too when she worked in an upscale fashion store. Johnnie knew her during an unfortunate period as a bar hostess, and Tim as a masseuse. Mrs Kau (Teresa Mo Shun-kwan), who heads up a woman’s charity and publicly espouses tolerance while privately judgmental, once turned her down for familial support seeing as the father of her child was still living. She advises holding him to account and if he won’t pay, forcing his family to take responsibility on his behalf. The irony being that the father is likely her own son and that if this poor woman had rocked up at the Kaus’ with a sad story and an infant in her arms, she would have been met with nothing more than contempt save perhaps some hush money to send her on her way.

The Kaus are merely a series of examples of the various ways the wealthy mistreat the poor, wielding their sense of entitlement like a weapon. Yau and Wong adopt an oddly Brechtian approach in their expressionist production design with the faceless masses identified only through titles – the word “labour” on the workers’ caps, “manager” in the fashion store, “secretary” at the foundation. None of these people are really worthy of names because they will always be “less” while the Kaus are “more” in more ways than one. Actions, however, have consequences. The family console themselves that this is all far too coincidental, that they couldn’t all have known the “same” woman in different guises, but that in many ways is the point – she isn’t one woman but all women, used, abused, and discarded not only by heartless men but by jealous and judgemental members of her own sex too. Better than her than me, they might say, but that’s no way to run a healthy society as the sensitive, slightly damaged Tim seems to see.

Like the Birlings, the Kaus attempt to brush the Inspector’s warning off, thinking it’s all been some elaborate prank that can they laugh about and then forget, but there will be a reckoning even if they attempt to gloss over the various revelations regarding their moral failings. Wong and Yau’s vague gesturing towards the outlandish greed of the hypocritical super wealthy is undercut by the ridiculous New Year slapstick of it all despite the Metropolis-like production design and expressionist trappings, giving in to an excess of its own in an extremely unexpected musical cameo from a martial arts star and the decision to end on a social realist photo of an innocent, pigtailed proletarian woman dressed in red. Nevertheless, strange as it all is the bizarre adaptation of Priestley’s play has its own peculiar charm even if it’s outrageousness rather than moral outrage which takes centre stage.


Currently available to stream online via Netflix in the UK and possibly other territories.

Original trailer (English / Traditional Chinese subtitles)

Walk With Me (雙魂, Ryon Lee, 2019)

Walk with me still 3“I will be at your side for ever and ever” promises a creepy doll at the centre of Ryon Lee’s Walk with Me (雙魂, Shuāng Hún). It might be better to have the creepy doll on your side rather than on someone else’s but, all things considered, it’s a heavy thing to carry. At least, that’s how the heroine, Sam (Michelle Wai Si-nga), begins to feel when she starts to wonder if spilling all her anxieties onto the doll was the best idea seeing as now people around her seem to be “disappearing”. Is the ghost inside the doll angry and taking its revenge, or is it just trying to protect? Assuming, as Sam does, that ghosts even exist.

A 20-something woman still living at home with an abusive, gambling father (Richard Ng Yiu-hon) and a mother (Anna Ng Yuen-Yi) still grieving for her lost little boy, Sam has a dead end job in a factory where she is being sexually harassed by the male bosses and mercilessly bullied by the other ladies on the floor. Part of the reason Sam is being bullied is that a woman in her building was recently “possessed” by the spirit of a dead child which is judged more than a coincidence seeing as Sam’s mother maintains a shrine and makes offerings to her late son. The strange goings on only started when Sam’s family moved in around 18 months previously so the obvious conclusions have been drawn.

Intensely lonely and a perpetual victim, Sam later tells a childhood friend she unexpectedly reconnects with that she has grown so used to being bullied that she just accepts it and has given up. Dao Dao, the creepy doll, has been her only companion for most of her life and Sam has been used to using it as a kind of therapy device, something she can talk to freely without fear of recriminations. Harbouring the uncomfortable belief that the doll may be possessed by the ghost of her little brother who died before he was even born, she is starting to worry that her father’s constant attempts to get rid of Dao Dao by cutting it up or otherwise brutally disposing of it may have made it angry. To test her belief that Dao Dao is the cause of the unexplained strangeness in her life, she’s started carrying it around with her which, of course, seems to be making the danger spread – conveniently into her work life where most of the people she most hates are located.

Meanwhile, she’s reconnected with York (Alex Lam) – a guy who used to be her only friend when they were kids and bonded over being bullied (her nickname was “bony”, his was “chubby” – he’s been working out ever since). Like the doll, York promises that he’ll always be by her side to protect her from mean people and ghosts too – he doesn’t believe in them but if Sam does then he’ll go with it. Pretty soon, York has moved into the spare room in their building and is doing his best to stand by Sam but the strangeness of events keeps escalating while Sam’s mental state fluctuates. She keeps thinking that she sees the ghost of a little girl in pig tails, but remains more afraid of bad people than of supernatural threat. Even her boss’ little daughter seems to be a budding psychopath, posed eagerly with her iPhone in front of the microwave in which she’s placed an adorable little puppy just to watch it go pop.

York tells Sam that if she wants to beat the darkness she’ll have to become a part of it, apparently meaning that she’ll need to become as strong as it is in order to stave it off. Events however point towards her interpretation, that she’ll eventually have to turn to the dark side in trying to stand up for herself or else remain a perpetual victim. It may very well be irrational to blame a doll for a crime spree, but then nobody seems to think getting possessed by a ghost, or trying to keep one in your home like pet, is anything out of the ordinary. In any case the ghosts Sam is most afraid of are the ones within herself, the ones that hint at her own duality, and embody all of the rage, despair, and guilt of which she is unable to speak. Dao Dao will indeed “always” be with her, only perhaps not quite in the way she thinks. A psychologically acute tale of painful repression and low self esteem, Walk With Me is less the story of a creepy doll and its supernatural revenge than of a lonely soul’s gradual fracturing under the intense pressure of constant rejection and wilful misuse.


Walk with Me screens on 4th July as part of the 2019 New York Asian Film Festival