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Original Title:
Dai yat gaai

Hong Kong 2008

Horror, Drama

Kelvin Tong

Ekin Cheng
Shawn Yue
Stephanie Che
Fiona Xie

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Rule Number One

Story: Policeman Lee Kwok-keung (Shawn Yue) is on the beat and stops a car. The driver behaves a little bit strange, so Lee checks his papers. It turns out that the man has a dead body in his trunk and is a wanted serial killer. Lee gets overpowered by the driver, but just before the serial killer can kill him the corpse suddenly sits up and therefore provides the policeman with the opportunity to shoot his attacker.
After several weeks in hospital Lee hands in a report about the incident, but his boss isn't really happy with being told about ghosts. As a result, Lee is transfered to the "Miscellaneous Affairs Department". The leading inspector Wong (Ekin Cheng) is an odd fellow who explains to him that the department deals with supernatural cases. However, there is one rule you always have to keep in mind: There are no ghosts! The only question is what Lee is supposed to do with this rule, because apparently ghosts are real and an especially dangerous one of them is going right after the two investigators.

Review: Former Singaporean critic Kelvin Tong decided to try moviemaking himself and with "The Maid" he had already delivered quite a successful horror film. His work "Rule Number One" above anything else manages to avoid some typical genre mistakes and proves to be one of the best horror films of Hong Kong, even though this statement has to be relativized right away since Hong Kong isn't really known for many or even well-done flicks of that very genre. Still, it remains undeniable that Tong's film is very entertaining and atmospheric, and moreover also has a nice plot to it. Furthermore, Tong scores with the fact that his tale actually features some characters you can relate to and share the thrill with. This work on character level is really appreciated and earns Tong some special words of praise. The actors also do their share to make "Rule Number One" not just an interesting horror movie, but also one of the best films coming out of Hong Kong this year.

The movie begins with tension and shows Lee cold-bloodedly shooting a seemingly innocent woman. Why? We get to understand that you shouldn't simply believe to know, because you can easily be deceived by the first impression. In a flashback we get to know how Lee is was transfered to the "Miscellaneous Affairs Department", the X-Files department of the Hong Kong police force. He is told that the departments job is to take on supernatural cases and to convince the general public that there are no ghosts. Which is why rule number one is: There are no ghosts! If the public should believe anything different this would soon lead to total chaos. So, it's a thankless task the rundown drinker Inspector Wong and his new partner Lee have to take care of. Because they will surely never get any kudos for their work. Moreover, their job is even more dangerous than the one of a normal policeman, since they have to hunt ghosts with nothing more than the weapons any common policeman has to his disposal.

Still, why are ghosts so dangerous, after all? Apart from the familiar restless spirits that have been seperated from their body by an untimely death and therefore aren't aware that there is nothing more for them to do in this world anymore, there is also a highly more deadly kind of ghosts, namely those that can possess a human body. Even if the ghosts part with these possessed humans, there is nothing left of the individual but a mindless shell. A terrifying thought which make ghosts as dangerous as a highly infectious virus. The only way to exterminate these ghosts is to kill its present host. Of course, this means at almost every time to shoot an innocent person, but then again this person technically is already dead as soon as the ghost possesses it. Still, you have to be pretty cold-blooded to simply kill a human being like that. Which is why our two policemen have some moral doubts every now and then, while their hesitation ironically leads to the ghost they hunt claiming even more victims.

Unfortunately, there are some logical gaps, which become obvious pretty soon. If ghosts would really be able to do what they do in this movie, wouldn't they pose an even greater threat to mankind than depicted here? More than anything else there should be thousands of mindless bodies everywhere! Furthermore, you have do ask how the police manages to cover up or justify the killing of seemingly innocent civilians during the ghost hunt.
Yet, all of this isn't that frustrating, only the last twist seems rather perfunctory. The audience is given the runaround to an extent that's too much to bear, as we could never come up with the resolution ourselves in the end. But aren't the best twists those which actually give you the chance to see what's coming and yet you still can't figure everything out? However, in general the twists in "Rule Number One" have to be positively refered to as they are the true thrilling factor of the movie. Naturally, there are also some jump-off-your-seat moments like any horror film is supposed to have, but they are surprisingly original. Apart from that there are some scenes that aren't for the faint at heart concerning the violence depicted. One scene in "Rule Number One" involving a group of schoolgirls is especially shocking, even though there is not really much blood to be seen. Nothing for the faint-hearted, as already said.

The ending of the film is also pretty dark even for a Hong Kong movie, yet also becomes a little bit frustrating as the reason for that turn of events isn't really apparent. Still, this doesn't change the fact that Kelvin Tong has managed to create a fine horror movie, which always remains thrilling. Every now and then there is some abstruse comedy scenes that lighten up the atmosphere, but all in all "Rule Number One" is a very dark cop- and horror movie, which is mainly supported by its tense atmosphere - also underlined by the well-done score. Working with the characters and on a drama level really adds to the overall quality and more than anyone else Ekin Cheng manages to convince as the aged inspector with a little bit of overweight. Shawn Yue plays his part a little bit too cold, but his role more or less demands that from him.
In times in which we don't get to see much good stuff out of Hong Kong "Rule Number One" almost has to stand out. A good horror movie with some nice ideas, which despite some flaws managed to positively surprise me.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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