10,000 Bullets   Exploring the world of Cinema from the Arthouse to the Grindhouse™

Fatal Vacation (An le zhan chang) 
Written by: on October 3rd, 2009

Theatrical Release Date: Hong Kong, 1989
Director: Eric Tsang
Writer: Eric Tsang
Cast: Bernardo Bernardo, Emily Kwan, Spanky Manikan, Pen Medina, Pik-Wan Tang, Eric Tsang, Irene Wan, Kwong Leung Wong, Victor Wong, Paulo Tocha

DVD released: February 5th, 2008
Approximate running time: 92 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: III (Hong Kong)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono Mandarin, Dolby Digital Stereo Cantonese
Subtitles: English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese
DVD Release: Joy Sales
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC (Hong Kong)
Retail Price: $9.99

Synopsis: A tour bus full of vacationers is abducted by rebels in the Philippines and held for a prisoner exchange. Too bad the police beat the captive to death and have nothing to trade.

Before appearing in serious roles as in the Infernal Affairs trilogy, Eric Tang had appeared in some goofy HK comedies. Here he writes, directs and stars in a deadly serious dramatic thriller set in the Philippines. It’s astounding that the Philippine government allowed this production, much less cooperated to such an extent. Perhaps tourism is finally beginning to recover from this picture? I know I’m not going.

From the fast and funny character introductions, though the initial phase of the tour, this is a light and breezy comedy. It’s not silly or over-the-top, but genuinely humorous. Then it becomes a Cat III thriller with cold blooded murder, rape, psychological torture, and lots of gun battles. This is all handled in a very competent fashion, there is tension, hysteria, pathos, but it never goes overboard and is a very believable presentation of the situation.

This is a very intelligent, even compassioned script that cares to present the individual personal dramas of each character, as much as can be accomplished for such a large ensemble cast. Still, there’s enough that we are afraid for everyone and feel each death. Fatal Vacation does a much better job at achieving this than did Speed.

Key to the realism is the excellent performance of Bernardo as the cold blooded but not blood thirsty leader of the rebels. He may execute the hostages without a second thought, but he still respects them more than does the leader of the military (Pen Medina), whose concerns are entirely political. Perhaps this is why the rebels are so determined to overthrow the ruling party?

Also notable is the first film appearance of Emily Kwan (Dr. Lamb, The Untold Story) as a particularly ruthless and heartless television crew director. She makes Kirk Douglas in Ace In The Hole look noble, but she is quite efficient. Her scenes are a good example of the subtle dark humor in the film. Also present is character actor Victor Wong (Tremors, Big Trouble In Little China).

The DVD:

This is a very nice print, presented widescreen anamorphic, with English subtitles. Both Cantonese and Mandarin soundtracks feature a lot of English from most of the primary characters, but the Cantonese is the much superior product. A very enjoyable presentation.

This film would compare more favorably to it’s contemporaries had it been made a few years earlier, but judged on it’s own merits this is quite the accomplishment for Eric Tang. Might have changed his career had it been more successful, but either way I’m still not going to the Philippines, ever.

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