[review by JA Kerswell]
|Yang Chen (Victor Chen) dreams pre-empt the deadly predicament he finds himself in in LOVE MOTEL.|
One of the very few slasher movies from mainland China - and despite a title that might give the wrong impression - Laizhi Zheng’s LOVE MOTEL (2012) is a suspenseful and often hallucinatory take on the subgenre. An estranged couple find themselves repeatedly trapped in a loop at a strange and remote motel; where they have to fight for their lives against two vicious killers. Strange, thrilling and pleasingly off-kilter.
Chen Jiaqian (Anya) and Yang Chen (Victor Chen) are a recently separated couple and co-workers, who both suspect each other of infidelities. Exasperated by their antagonism to each other, their boss at a newspaper (Jing Li) insists that they take a journalism assignment together to investigate a strange death. Reluctantly they agree and take a train to a remote region, where they meet an eccentric and annoying couple - Zhou (comedian Laxi) and Xinya (Mi Gong) - on the train.
As it is late, Chen and Yang decide to stay at the only place in town - the Truth Honeymoon Hotel. However, entering the foyer both are overcome with a nagging sense of deja vu and ask the receptionist (Ming Zhao) if they have met her before. Increasingly unnerved by echoes they recognise, from the grumpy maid (Lifan Dong) to the dog that is the spitting image of Yang’s at home, the couple soon find themselves under attack by two knife-wielding, shadowy figures who play a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with them around the motel.
|Yang Chen (Victor Chen) and Chen Jiaqian (Anya) have a strong sense of deja vu when they check into the LOVE MOTEL.|
LOVE MOTEL pre-dates HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017) by five years but shares some similarities. It isn’t revealed what exactly the couple are experiencing until the end of the movie. Is it a time loop? Are they sharing a recurring nightmare? In some instances, it is just Chen who finds herself alone in the hotel to try and escape the twin killers - and other times Yang. Sometimes it is both of them. But after each time they reawake to find the day reset and themselves once again taking the journey to the fateful motel.
Whilst not a straight-ahead slasher movie - it is too trippy and non-linear for that - Zheng excels in the cat-and-mouse theatrics. The motel - which is largely deserted for renovations - is a great location. The couple are menaced by a man in black robes with only eyeholes cut out and a sinister woman in high heels, with long black hair covering her face. There are some excellent slasher action set pieces as the couple tries to survive the night.
|Despite a misleading title there is little eroticism and plenty of terror in Laizhi Zheng's 2012 film.|
The film also boasts some striking imagery and opens with a scene where Yang wakes and can see Chen in a bed on the ceiling above him. It neatly pre-empts the nightmare loops to follow. It also captures that disorientating, woozy feeling that dreams sometimes have where even the most outlandish thing seems real. Plus those whisps of memories that evaporate come morning, but leave some lingering details that resurface during the day. Sometimes these elements threaten to confuse audiences and arguably engulf the movie at times, but it all leads to the film’s shock revelation.
Chinese filmmakers have long had to work within the confines of increasing state censorship. Despite horror being a popular film genre, many elements have to be curtailed (especially the supernatural) to receive a state-sanctioned stamp of approval. So, whilst LOVE MOTEL is no gore fest, it certainly isn’t blood-free by any means. The direct translation of the title from Mandarin Chinese is HORROR HOTEL, which better reflects the film’s contents. Although touted as an update of Hung-Wah Leung’s WICKED GHOST (1999), the films share little in common.
LOVE MOTEL has been little seen outside of its native China - where it opened on screens on August 2012 to good box office. Part of that may be because of the presumably unlicensed use of the Lady Gaga song ‘Poker Face’ in two lengthy club scenes!
Eerie and off-beat, LOVE MOTEL is worth checking into.
female: 6 / male: 5
1) Female found dead with knife in her chest
2) Female found with throat slashed
3) Male stabbed in the neck
4) Female found with throat slashed
5) Male found with knife in his neck
6) Female run through with wooden stake
7) Female impaled on metal pipe
8) Male stabbed in the neck
9) Female stabbed in the stomach
10) Male killed with metal wrench
11) Male stabbed with knife
Thank you for reading! And, if you've enjoyed this review, please consider a donation to help keep Hysteria Lives! alive! Donate now with Paypal.