Ridiculous and Goofy, SECRETS IN THE HOT SPRING 切小金家的旅馆 Is An Entertaining Horror-Comedy Film With A Heart4 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
When Xiao Gin is called back to his family’s hot spring hotel, his schoolmates Li Han and Lu Qun tag along, only to find that there’s more to the dilapidated hotel than it seems.
Director: Lin Kuan-Hui
Cast: Zhang Ting-hu, Sing Hom, Lin He-Hsuan, Chu Mimi, Law Kar-Ying, Kuo Shu-Yao
Language: Mandarin Chinese
Runtime: 109 mins
If you enjoy Giddens Ko’s works — You Are The Apple of My Eye (2011) and Mon Mon Mon Monsters (2017) — then this might be a film for you.
Lin Kuan-Hui’s feature debut with Secrets In The Hot Spring is an energetic, light-hearted foray into the horror-comedy genre, where three students — Xiao Gin (Zhang Ting-Hu), Li Han (Sing Hom), and Lu Qun (Lin He-Hsuan) — through a series of humorous, unexpected encounters, find themselves stuck in Xiao Gin’s family’s haunted hotel.
Yes, haunted. Well, the reveal of the supernatural creatures haunting their hallways isn’t anything surprising, but the film isn’t meant to be unpredictable or even actually scary. Instead, the secret to the film’s success is something a little more simple and understated: its heart.
Xiao Gin, the protagonist, is the typical high school delinquent: he has peroxide-bleached hair, uses fighting as a solution, and has been unable to graduate school for five years. Even at his first appearance, he’s portrayed as someone seemingly callous and mean — he nearly scolds a little child to the point of tears and says that what he loves most is seeing people hug one another in fear. It is only later, through a series of increasingly ridiculous encounters in his family’s hotel, that the layers in his character are revealed.
The aforementioned ridiculous encounters and crazy antics stem solely from the characters themselves, all of who act almost like caricatures of human beings in order to provide some laughs — though they are slowly given depth as the plot progresses. Xiao Gin is the stereotypical student bad boy; Li Han, nicknamed as Little Princess, is an effeminate pretty boy; and Lu Qun is the unfortunate awkward student who somehow always get the worst part of the situation. The actors play their distinct characters with ease, and while exaggerated at times, they still seem like real human beings with (mostly) relatable reactions and emotions.
The interactions between these three social pariahs drive the comedy of the film, though I’ll admit, the style of humour might not be for everybody. It is very Chinese, with elements of over-the-top slapstick, situational comedy, nonsensical humour, random skits, and deadpan delivery (mainly contributed by Xiao Gin, who initially refuses to join his friends’ antics). These comedic strands aren’t the type to provide big laughs, but rather are entertaining romps that might draw a smile or two.
Chu Mimi and Law Kar-Ying’s efforts at playing Xiao Gin’s quirky, stingy grandparents are commendable as well. Their random use of Cantonese (which alludes to their Hong Kong background) in a Taiwanese film, where Hokkien is the more common dialect, makes for some unexpected laughs for the initiated, but might fall flat for the outsiders.
The soundtrack of the film is also curated with sensitivity. It is dramatic and extravagantly theatrical at the horror reveals; wacky and retro at certain comedic parts reminiscent to that of an old-school video game. Overwhelming classical music plays in the background as they scream vulgarities at an aghast audience, while an action-thriller score that pays homage to Hans Zimmers’ iconic Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack builds up the suspense of their, well, action-thriller scenes. These musical choices, dramatic and blatant as they are, make for an exciting journey through Secrets in the Hot Spring.
The heart of the film is ultimately the reluctant friendship that blossoms between the three main characters, though, and it is done with utmost sincerity. While they might take jabs at one another and frequently make fun of each other, their care and affection for one another shines through. The chemistry between the three actors is also palpable, and it makes the reveal of their deeper nuances throughout their interactions all the more genuine and believable.
A consistently entertaining ride through jumpscares and a crazy melting pot of humour and comedy styles, Secrets in the Hot Spring is a heartfelt debut into the horror-comedy genre.
You can watch the film on Netflix here. Meanwhile, this is the trailer: