A Comedy-Horror with a Touch of Romance Wrapped in a Ball of Crazy
It takes a few minutes to figure out the real protagonist of Sugar Street Studio. We start with a shyster movie producer who borrows money from a loan shark to make a D-movie that he may or may not be serious about. To avoid losing a digit or a nipple, he proposes his money-making epiphany. Take the mob boss’s news-worthily (and perpetually empty) haunted restaurant and turn it back into its original form – a haunted movie studio.
Of course, their haunted attraction will be the best in Hong Kong, because it’s real. And they won’t have to pay a lot of actors or create special effects, also saving budget. Then they can then use the perfectly imagined space to film a movie and the two haunted concepts can advertise each other. Slam dunk.
Our producer Pierre hires/swindles a team of horror prop and make-up artists to kit out the venue and roll tape on their customers. Once the lead stylist Gary picks up the story, narrating what they find, things start to get a bit more grounded.
To start, the team researches the ghostly history to use as inspiration for the design. The surviving lead actor – the hero on scene – retells the story of the studio’s fatal fire. With info in hand, the team gets to work. And they discover things weirder than their mission.
Customers turning up to relieve stress by screaming; guests who manage to see the real ghost and subsequently become repeat visitors. Should we make a VIP club? They use social to promote scare victim reactions, drawing in more visitors. And so, the circle of promotion begins.
But why has the team never seen the ghost? If you’ve ever watched a horror movie, you know that’s the last question one should ask.
Along the lines of the fabulous + ridiculous Shaun of the Dead (a personal fave) it pokes fun at scary movies at the same time it aims to scare, at least a little bit. A combined murder-mystery, comedy-horror with a bit of ghost romance thrown in, it aims to press all the buttons and still move you swiftly on.
Fun and imaginative, Sugar Street Studio is perhaps a bit convoluted to start, but comes together once the real team is in place. It may have flowed a bit better with a resolution around the scam-producer and Chinese mafia ‘opening act’ strand. And although they do crop up here and there, they merely serve as comic tools. Tool feels like a good word. Conveniently, the ‘main stage’ of the story is far-out, fun and fit to engage.
Nominated for an award at the Udine Far East Film Festival, it’s the first feature film for writer/director Sunny Lau, who co-wrote the screenplay for Missbehavior with award-winning director Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung. Director, Producer and prolific screenwriter Matt Chow plays the Producer, Pierre. As an actor, he’s appeared in over 60 movies including Raging Fire. And Yat-Ho Wong plays lead stylist Gary. Known for Apart, The Gutter and Besieged City, he carries the story first as artist then as self-appointed chief investigator.
There’s a fabulous soundtrack to accompany all the action, particularly the fun-tastic closing tune, but I’ve not been able to find out any information about it. Please do add it into the comments if you have any detail. Lai Ying Tong, Cantopop writer and arranger, led the score.
Notably, I did find this in my research – apparently in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay, you can find a live Sugar Street Studio Experience Hall and Restaurant. If you’re visiting, it may be something to check out. If you’ve been, please tell all!
Slapstick silly, this film is, for the most part, more fun than scary. With all the odd twists, turns and random starts, Sugar Street Studio manages to charm with its oddball nature. An easy watch, it will leave you giggling and wondering why there aren’t more comedy horrors without the need to overdose on the ironic, like with the Scary Movie franchise. Whilst this movie isn’t perfect, there’s something about it that just gets you, ultimately making it very watch-worthy.
The 2021 London East Asia Film Festival runs from Oct 21-31. For screening information on more fantastic movies from across East Asia, see the LEAFF programme here. Click here to see more movies reviewed as part of this festival.
Verdict - 8/10