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Original Title:
Dei yuk dai sup gau tsang

Hong Kong 2007

Horror, Thriller

Carol Lai Miu-suet

Gillian Chung
Shaun Tam
Patrick Tam
Vincy Chan
Bonnie Xian
Maggie Lee
Michelle Mee
Jones Xu
Charlene Choi
Jimmy Wong Ga Lok
Calvin Choi
Ng Yan

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Naraka 19

Story: Four friends, Rain (Gillian Chung), Violet (Vincy Chan), Mandy (Bonnie Xian) and Eva (Maggie Lee), rent a room on a campus, a room which has been abandoned for a long time already. Not without a reason, because ten years ago Gao Yuan (Jones Xu) commited suicide there, after his girlfriend took her own life under yet to be answered circumstances. Rain realizes that something is wrong when her friend Eva can't stop to play with her cell phone, writing SMS like a lunatic. It seems that she is playing some sort of game, which eventually drives her into madness. Rain has to witness with her own eyes, how her friend kills herself in a very strange way. Thus, Inspector Yip (Shaun Tam) gets assigned to the case.
Eva's friends are now under treatment of psychiatrist Yan (Patrick Tam), but suddenly Violet also starts to play the deadly phone game. Since Rain finally wants to find out, why her friend killed herself, and what this odd game is all about, she decides to play it, too. The game's goal is to reach the 19th level of hell. However, according to Chinese beliefs there are only 18 levels. Which is why Rain has to overcome all her fears in the 18 levels of hell in order to solve the riddle of the additional level...

Review: If you think, after reading the plot summary, that "Naraka 19" is a ridiculous horror flick wrapped up by a cheap video game exterior, then I have to assure you that this is the least annoying problem of the film. In fact, it's these rather fantastic ideas that make the movie somewhat slightly interesting at times. However, this all doesn't hide the fact that "Naraka 19" is told incredibly diffuse, woozy and incoherently, while introducing shallow characters. This all adds to a movie experience you don't wanna make - as it will bore you to death. It's imossible to find access to the movie, and it's almost more difficult to hang on until the very end without falling asleep. You may find yourself lucky, at first, that there aren't any old Asian horror formulas used to scare the living hell out of us in a more or less successful way. But, eventually, we have to find out that the movie passes up lots of opportunities, as some of the ideas really weren't that bad by itself. It's just that they go down in a script in which nothing seems to fit.

If you thought the same as I did, when reading the title, namely that this is another Japanese horror film, until you saw Twins-Star Gillian Chung ("The Twins Effect", "Twins Mission") in the cast list, then let me educate you that "Naraka" isn't Japanese, but in fact Sanskrit for "Hell/Underworld". The main plot is actually quite interesting. In Chinese culture, there are 18 levels of hell, e.g. the hell-of-ripping-your-tongue-out or ripping-your-heart-out etc. But what horror might hide behind a 19th level? With the help of a cell phone game it is possible to wander the different levels of hell. This creates a strong feeling of a video game, as the cell phone serves as a map, which shows the exit, and also gives you some hints. You can even choose a weapon, which is why I'm still wondering for what reason Rain didn't just select the machine gun. It would have made life so much easier...

Still, if you think that this might be as much fun as it sounds, then you will be really, really disappointed. Rain stumbles from one level of hell to another, which were all created by more or less convincing CGI-effects, so that the film sometimes has to remind us of "Re-cycle". However, the movie doesn't even have nearly as much style, not to mention the visual superiority of the Pang-Brothers work. Moreover, the levels of hell all prove to be quite unspectacular and uninventive, which is even the more odd, as the film's strength absolutely should have lied here and nowhere else. It's also strange, why we only get a glance of hell after half the movie has already passed. And when it's finally time for the movie to get interesting, we only get to see very little, as Rain somehow manages to skip several levels in a row thanks to her bonus score points accumulated...
Then again, on the other side, a story unfolds that remains completely vague, as there are just too many things introduced to the viewer, and way too jumpy and disjointed for us to keep up with the flow of information. Is hell in the end just an illusion, that manifested in the teenagers' minds, or does it really exist?

If you expect to get answers to such questions, then you will get quite frustrated. The finale tries to connect the several loose ends of the story, but it is supposed to fail, as there are many story threads that simply head into a dead end already at the beginning, leaving the audience without any overview about the events depicted. The ending itself also proves to be pseudo-psychological and quite open to our imagination, which fully exceeds the level of frustration we are willing to endure, as we still hoped that the different puzzle parts may fit together at least in the end. But that's not the case. We have a suicide, along with a restless ghost, a cult that is based half on western, half on eastern religion, a deadly cell phone game, suggestion as an illusion-creating factor, and a villian who is easily to be recognized as such from the very beginning. This all mixes into an incoherent and incomprehensible plot clod, which tries to look like an actual script. This is an endurance test for any viewer, as we soon just simply shut off our brain out of self-preservation, and are bored until it's all over, finally.

It also doesn't help that the movie's pictures look quite polished at times, as this promises more quality than what we actually get. The characters are all drawn very thin and the acting efforts are all to be located at a low level. Gillian Chung may be the only reason for us to look at the TV screen every now and then, but it's only because of her looks, and surely not because of her rather poor portrayal of Rain. Shaun Tam und Patrick Tam are the only ones who can at least provide a mediocre performance, but their characters simply remain poorly written.
When the credits finally roll over the screen, we are thankful that it's over, and that we don't have to endure the fast cuts, which disjointedly add one scene after another, any longer. Fortunately, we didn't care about the confusing story anymore, anyway.
"Naraka 19" proves to be a true ordeal, which no one should be undergoing willingly, if you aren't a big Gillian Chung Fan. By the way, her "Twins"-sister Charlene Choi is inseparable from Chung, of course, which is why Choi's cameo really doesn't come as a surprise, but instead once again underlines the artificial style of the movie. Just avoid this flick...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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