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  • Benjamin May

Peace Hotel (1995) Review

In a weird Western wasteland, a bandit by the name of Wong A-Ping- known ominously as The Killer- is something of a legend. Unstoppable and unmatched in brutality, he roams the land, wreaking havoc and taking lives. After a personal tragedy, he establishes the so-called Peace Hotel, a sanctuary where violence is strictly forbidden. For a time, the hotel thrives, acting as a beacon of order and safety throughout the unlawful, dangerous land. However, the machinations of an attractive con-woman named Shau Siu-man- as well as the villainous gang hot on her tail- threaten to disrupt the situation irrevocably, in Wai Ka-Fai's directorial debut 'Peace Hotel.'

A western with artistic stylizations, the film is off-beat and somewhat entertaining; if not terribly original or well-written. The majority of the characters are caricatures, the dialogue is farcical and to call the story predictable would be an understatement. The central conceit is an interesting one, but it is not exploited in a manner that is either subtle or particularly effective. However, one does get quite wrapped up in 'Peace Hotel' anyway, as one would with a cowboy B-movie from the 50's. There are plenty of twists in the tale, a dash of romance and much humor; a concoction that makes for an enjoyable- if underwhelming- viewing experience.

It must be said that the production design overseen by Wai Ming Yau and Chung-Man Yee is impressive and atmospheric work. The sets look weathered, with the titular hotel being particularly striking. The costume design is also worthy of note, not to mention Wing-Hang Wong's cinematography. It is highly stylized and distinct, at times almost dreamlike. Admittedly though, the hurried camera movement occasionally makes for sequences that are overly hectic, particularly the fight scenes; which are quite hard to follow.

That may be more of an issue resulting from Kuo-Chung Chou's editing, though; which is loose and untidy. Many scenes feel disjointed and the narrative is made unnecessarily abstruse, with the impact of the overall film being somewhat lessened. As mentioned above, the fight scenes are especially bewildering, looking like they were shot on 8mm and edited by a blind man for an amateur music video from the early nineties. The pacing is also problematic, with the beginning being quite slow and the latter half of the film feeling quite rushed. Under Wai Ka-Fai's direction, Chou's work leaves an impression on the viewer alright- and not a positive one.

The cast do much more memorable work, Chow Yun-Fat and Cecilia Yip in particular. Chow is a very charismatic performer, with a magnetic screen presence, and his performance as Wong A-Ping is reserved and steady. The character may be underwritten, but he makes him a likable fellow of some depth all the same. Credit for the film's story also goes to Chow, so aside from a good performance he came up with an intriguing concept to boot.

Yip plays Shau Siu-man, a self-centered rogue you cant help but like; perhaps because of the joy of her performance. She doesn't take the role too seriously, there's a tongue-in-cheek element to her chicanery that is most attractive, and she and Chow have a natural chemistry that makes watching them together a treat. Of note from the supporting cast are Shun Lau as a blind resident of the hotel and Jacklyn Wu, who appears in flashback as Chow's wife.

In short, 'Peace Hotel' doesn't make for fantastic cinema, but it does hold entertainment value. The visuals are strong, as are the performances from the cast. The unremarkable story and its oftentimes laughably banal dialogue is problematic though- as is the terrible editing- dooming the film to the realm of mediocrity. John Lennon once sang 'Give Peace A Chance,' but if it's 'Peace Hotel;' perhaps it isn't worth it.


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