The Tenants Downstairs 樓下的房客 (2016) Review

Mention the name “Giddens Ko” and the first thing that quickly comes to mind would be the Taiwanese author-turned-filmmaker’s two popular romantic movies including You Are The Apple Of My Eye <那些年,我們一起追的女孩> (2011) and Cafe. Waiting. Love <等一個人咖啡> (2014). But he also branched out with different genres as well, namely writing and directing the 2017 Taiwanese horror-comedy Mon Mon Mon Monsters <報告老師!怪怪怪怪物!> and of course, penning the script for Adam Tsuei’s Cat III-inspired black comedy/mystery The Tenants Downstairs <樓下的房客>.

Adapted from Ko’s novel of the same name, the movie revolves around a sleazy landlord (Simon Yam), who is brought in by the police for questioning. Over the course of the interrogation, the landlord claims he has inherited an apartment and enjoy spending his time spying on his eight tenants through hidden cameras.

This includes a single father named Wang Ming-Kai (Yu An-Shun), who has an incestuous fantasy with his little daughter Wang Yun-Ko (Angel Ho); a seemingly mild-mannered professor Kuo Li (Lee Kang-Sheng) and his young student Linghu (Bernard Sen) who are actually gay couples; a sexy office executive (Sophia Li) who often engaged in illicit affairs; a shy and mysterious young woman in white (Ivy Shao) whose room filled with unopened suitcases;  a video-game nerd and college geek Boyan (Hou Yan-Xi); and a muscular gym teacher who has a history of domestic violence (Kaiser Chuang).

Ivy Shao in “The Tenants Downstairs” (2016).

The first notable thing about The Tenants Downstairs <樓下的房客> is Simon Yam’s familiar return to the Cat III exploitation genre. Although this is technically not a Cat III Hong Kong movie, the overall feel and tone are all there. We have Yam himself pulling off his sleazy landlord role effortlessly, reminding us why he used to be the king of Cat III Hong Kong movies back in the 90s.

There are dark subject matters as well, which include everything from homosexuality and paedophilia. The only biggest exception here is The Tenants Downstairs<樓下的房客> elegant and atmospheric approach, unlike the one we often saw in the more vivid Cat III Hong Kong movies of the 90s. But at least fans of exploitation cinema won’t be left completely disappointed since Tsuei never shy away from graphic depictions of sex and nudity (which mostly involved Sophia Li) as well as disturbing violence.

Apart from Yam’s perfectly sleazy performance, the supporting cast is just as great — with Sophia Li, Ivy Shao and Tsai Ming-Liang’s regular Lee Kang-Sheng all particularly deserved a mention here.

Kaiser Chuang and Sophia Li in “The Tenants Downstairs” (2016).

However, Giddens Ko’s own adapted screenplay is pretty much a mixed bag. The movie basically tries to be everything at once — a black comedy, an ensemble mystery, a sex drama and even a dash of unsettling horror-thriller reminiscent of Takashi Miike’s Audition.

With multiple genres to juggle altogether, it can be a tough act to strike the right balance. Adam Tsuei, who is mainly known as the producer for hit movies including You Are The Apple Of My Eye <那些年,我們一起追的女孩>, Tiny Times <小时代> and Cafe. Waiting. Love <等一個人咖啡> does a fairly decent job as a first-time director here. It’s just too bad his direction tends to be haphazard in some places, which at times making the two-hour runtime feels like an overstretched slog. The climactic ending is particularly disappointing, complete with a dull last-minute twist that is neither shocking or surprising.


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