Sleep Curse, The (2017) Review

"The Sleep Curse" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“The Sleep Curse” Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Herman Yau
Writer: Erica Li, Lee Sing
Cast: Anthony Wong, Jojo Goh, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, Michelle Wai, Mak Kwai-Yuen, Chye Yang, Pearlly Chua, Yip Ching-Fong, Bryant Mak Ji-Lok
Running Time: 102 min.

By Martin Sandison

After this year’s Udine Far East Film Festival screening of The Sleep Curse – and before my scheduled interview with its prodigiously talented director, Herman Yau – I bumped into the great man outside the theatre. I told him that I’d never seen a film like the masterful Untold Story before; he thanked me and said that Tai Seng’s U.S. DVD release was the only uncut version ever released; I told him I would seek it out. Fellow COF reviewer (and kung fu brother), Matija, and I, suitably had a few drinks before the midnight showing of The Sleep Curse. The movie reunites Untold Story star Anthony Wong with Yau, and I felt privileged and excited that this was the uncut showing (10 seconds has been cut for the Asian release) – on top of this – we were watching it in the company of Mr. Yau.

Wong stars as Lam, a neurologist who specialises in sleep problems. He is taken on by an old flame, Monique (Jojo Goh), to help cure her elder brother’s extreme insomnia. Seeing that her brother is under a type of black magic, Lam decides to visit a medium and work out his own past to further his work. Thus, the narrative flashes back to WW2, wherein Lam plays his father Lam Sing, who is a translator working with the Japanese during the occupation of Hong Kong.

The beginning and end of the film are very strong, with a great aesthetic that exudes creepiness and brings back the style of the Untold Story. The opening showing the insomniac is depicted in grainy home video footage (this part of the film is set in 1990) and is suitably creepy and powerfully edited. Wong’s character, while not as brilliantly drawn as his psychotic intensity in Untold Storyor as disgustingly manic as in Ebola Syndrome, is a combination of fierce anger and barely concealed psychosis. It’s the kind of performance that Wong can portray in a heartbeat, yet it contains huge amounts of pathos. He shows his range yet again with the depiction of Lam, although the narrative falters a bit in the middle. It’s unfortunate. Those expecting the unrelenting nature of the previous two films will be a little disappointed, as the middle section is without extremity or real horror; it’s more a of a creepy ghost story.

Gordon Lam Ka Tung, who is having something of a career renaissance, gives a performance that elevates the WW2 section of the film, playing it with a veteran’s knowing grace. His character Chow Fook is the real villain over Lam Sing here, and it’s an interesting change of pace in the film. Last year, Lam also starred in Yau’s drama Nessun Dorma, and recently won the best actor award for Trivisa. Doh puts in decent shift. Her only previous credit was Struggle, notable for featuring the late, great Fung Hark On.

Erica Li’s script threatens at the beginning to be something truly great, but falters a little once the narrative switches, but is redeemed towards the end. Li has worked with Yau a lot, most recently on the closing film of Udine FEFF Shockwave, and also scripted one of my favourite Stephen Chow films The King of Comedy.

Yau comes with such a great pedigree as a director and cinematographer (he has worked in the latter capacity on some notable Hong Kong films of the last 20 years, including Tsui Hark’s all star, Seven Swords), that you would expect his return to extreme horror to be atmospherically filmed with some moments to make the audience squirm. On both counts, the film succeeds, but there’s something missing. Maybe it’s the fact that no Hong Kong director can really recreate their masterful films of the 80’s and 90’s in style and joyous abandon. The Sleep Curse actually doesn’t aim for a recreation, rather a reinvention, and Yau himself said that it’s about the evil that men do – the WW2 part of the film reflects this, with its ideas of latent forced prostitution.

The Sleep Curse builds up to a seriously disgusting and over-the-top ending that will have those viewers who loved Yau’s earlier films in raptures; rest assured, these scenes are just as horrendous as the worst in Untold Story. Despite not capturing the otherworldly greatness of that film, if you are a fan of extreme cinema, check The Sleep Curse out.

Martin Sandison’s Rating: 7/10

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4 Responses to Sleep Curse, The (2017) Review

  1. Chris Mayo says:

    Has this been released? Do you have any details?

  2. Paul Bramhall says:

    This was my Halloween night viewing for this year, and Martin’s review sums it up pretty nicely. Personally I’d probably rate it between a 5 – 6. It opens and closes strongly as mentioned, with the first 5 minutes interspersing grainy home video footage with the opening titles, invoking a suitably foreboding sense of dread, and the final 10 minutes being classic Herman Yau/Anthony Wong gory madness.

    However the 85 minutes in-between is inconsistent, and the pacing seems a little off, with some parts being particularly plodding, while others move along briskly. The editing also resorts to what I like to call the Sunny Luk/Longman Leung technique, were loud tension filled music plays over scenes which in fact have very little going on in them, almost as if to cloak the lack of narrative progression.

    Those who make it to the final 10 minutes though are rewarded with some vintage Category III insanity, which almost plays like it’s part of a different movie. It makes me wonder if this played in Mainland China, as it’s pretty graphic stuff, although my theory would be that Yau got the extreme gore past the censors, by trading it with some extreme anti-Japanese sentiment. Something that always goes down well with Jinping and co.

    All in all, despite it’s weaknesses, it’s enough to make me want to check out ‘Nessun Dorma’.

    PS Where’s the Herman Yau interview!?

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