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Peace Hotel (HK 1995)

Director : Wai Ka Fai
Producer : John Woo
Screenplay : Wai Ka Fai
Cinematographer : Wong Wing Hang
Cast : Chow Yun Fat, Cecilia Yip, Chin Ho, Lau Shun, Annabelle Liew, Ng Sin Lin

The death of his wife provokes the ‘King of Killers’ to go on a killing spree. After murdering dozens of men single-handedly the Killer has an epiphany. He decides to open the ‘Peace Hotel’, a place where criminals fleeing for their lives can find a save-haven. The rule of the ‘Peace Hotel’ is observed by all including mobs and the local law-keepers– while under the roof of the Peace Hotel, any man or woman comes under the protection of The Killer. Ten years after the hotel first opened its doors, a young woman arrives who tries to hustle the occupants of the hotel. The Killer decides to throw her out, but when a lynch mob appears outside he has to decide whether to extend his protection to the troublemaker and risk endangering the lives of everyone living in the building, or to sacrifice her to the angry crowd

by Martin Cleary

In his last Hong Kong role before disappearing to Hollywood, Chow Yun-Fat quite aptly takes the role of The Killer (sounds familiar!) a man who is searching for redemption after the death of his wife and his subsequent murdering of dozens of people. The film opens with a flashback sequence of carnage, images which later haunt the hotel like a ghost.

It’s a powerhouse opening sequence, and it’s strong and clever enough to remain with you throughout the film. It also establishes the films dream-like quality. The construction of the film, its central premise and it’s plot have elements of a ‘comic-book’ feel to them. Chow is an apparently quiet and gentle man but one who’s reputation precedes him. There are hints at the angry and potentially wild man he has been in the past, and as Lam Ling finds out, he doesn’t like to be treated like a fool. Chow Yun-Fat plays these characters with ease and while you sense that he wants to try to re-invent his familiar on-screen persona in Peace Hotel (he co-wrote the story) he’s never given quite enough room to develop the character into anything memorable. Cecilia Yip (who was incidentally Chow’s co-star in the film Hong Kong 1941) is the con artist Lam Ling, a clever and conniving woman who tries to trick her way to a free stay at the hotel. It’s no surprise that her lies are quickly uncovered – especially as she pretends to be The Killer’s wife – a character that we have already seen dead in a flashback sequence. Needless to say, The Killer isn’t amused. Cecilia Yip plays her role with a real sense of gusto, she’s mouthy and over-confident but is also terrified of the situation she finds herself in.

Along with two good lead performers, Peace Hotel features some fantastic cinematography. The camera swoops around the hotel, chases horses and scenes are filmed from some very interesting and unusual angles – it looks amazing and is very accomplished for this type of Hong Kong film. The hotel itself is also a stunning set. The run-down old building is almost gothic, as like The Killer himself, it has a haunted history but it still functions day to day and allows its inhabitants to live without fear for their life. Visually the film is a treat. Sadly, Peace Hotel doesn’t quite manage to fulfill it’s promise very consistently. There’s a combination if successful ideas and imagery but there’s a fair share of undeveloped themes and characterization.

The story concerns itself with peoples pasts – people trying to hide from them or people who are running away because of them – but when Chows characters history is revealed it doesn’t really enlighten us as to his real intentions. The themes of guilt, regret and protection are only touched upon to primarily define individual characters and never really explored as themes in their own right. The supporting actors are good when they are given something to do, but for the most part they just gamble and play music in the background – we never really feel like
it’s a genuine small community in the hotel as no supporting characters are given much to do. The same is said of the angry mob who are waiting outside of the hotel, although this is less of a problem than with the ‘character-less’ inhabitants as the mob seems fearsome when they remain a largely faceless crowd. The biggest problem comes when the reasons for their appearance is revealed – it’s neither much of a surprise and neither does it add any complexity to either the hotel, Lam Ling or The Killer himself. You can’t help but feel that for all of it’s flair and confidence that a lot of the film is underwritten.

The action scenes are stylised and sometimes fairly surreal, which is no bad thing considering the legendary and almost mythical reputation of Chows character, but sometimes the action moves in such a blur that it is difficult to see what is happening. There are however a couple of scenes that manage to strike up some memorable imagery, although to reveal them here would ruin part of the film. Sadly, while there’s only a couple of ‘action’ scenes, there are a few moments of violence which seem unnecessarily harsh involving Cecilia Yip’s character which verge on being too brutish. It’s nice to see a film that doesn’t shy away from it’s violence but when it is sometimes closely linked to a ‘humorous scene’ in a story like this it seems a little ill-judged.

Peace Hotel is not the classic film it could have been. Thematically the film is similar to Clint Eastwood’s film Unforgiven, although Peace Hotel is a much more visually stylised film which doesn’t strictly conform to ideas of realism as it indulges itself in cinematic genre and imagery, rather than breaking genre conventions. If Peace Hotel is an attempt to break these conventions then it fails miserably, but watched with the right expectations (there’s quite uneven elements of farce and slapstick as well as the typical ‘musical interlude’ thrown in alongside the drama) then Peace Hotel is an enjoyable film. It’s an easy to watch film, it looks very cool and has a strong, but underdeveloped performance from Chow Yun-Fat with a good supporting cast. Although the film has its faults, for fans of Chow Yun-Fat this is worth a watch and although it’s not ground-breaking cinema, this can also be recommended for anyone else who likes to enjoy something verging on
the off-beat.

Plot : 3/5
Acting : 4/5
Entertainment : 3.5/5
Overall : 3.5/5

Notable Scenes
- The ‘flashback sequence’ – the massacre
- Lam Ling hustles the inhabitants
- The crowd angers The Killer
- The ‘Peace Hotel’ becomes less Peaceful….

Buy this movie at YesAsia – Peace Hotel

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