Written by: Johan Fundin on June 16th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: 1995, Hong Kong
Director: Wai Ka-Fai
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Cecilia Yip, Chin Ho, Lau Chun, Annabelle Liew, Hedy Chang, Mickey Ng
DVD release date: 26 June 2006
Approximate running time: 92mins
Aspect ratio: 16:9 anamorphic widescreen
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo Cantonese
Subtitles: English (Forced)
DVD release: Optimum Releasing
Region coding: Region 2 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £15.99
Synopsis: The film opens with a long flashback sequence showing the aftermath of a fight in which an entire gang of bandits was killed by a mysterious man single-handedly. According to legend, nobody knew his name, where he came from, or why he killed so many people. From that day he is only referred to as The Killer (played by Yun-Fat). At the scene of the fight he marked out a boundary on the ground with a sword, and opened the Peace Hotel – a place of residence for people who have nowhere to go, a place for refugees and wanted criminals.
Present day, ten years later. The Killer is running the Peace Hotel in a friendly and hospitable atmosphere. The rules are simple, strict and widely accepted in the community: If someone from the outside succeeds to reach the hotel alive his enemies are not allowed to catch him. The Peace Hotel – never interfering with the affairs of the outside world – protects everyone who arrives but never protects the ones who leave. One day the harmony is disturbed by the arrival of a young beautiful woman in a red dress who claims to be on the run from a ruthless gang she once was involved with. The woman, Shau Sin-man (Cecilia Yip), is wanted for the killing of a gang member and for theft of gold. The evil gang leader is firmly determined to do whatever it takes to force the hotel to break its sacred rules in order to get to her. Suddenly the Peace Hotel has become a not so peaceful place to be. The intrigue turns out to be more complex than it at first appears to be, including a twist, and it becomes clear that The Killer and the gang leader share an experience from an unpleasant event many years ago…
Unfortunately, Peace Hotel is not a particularly good film, although it has its moments. The opening flashback segment in black&white footage but with the inclusion of a colored detail: a red lipstick mark on a wine glass, echoes Japanese director Seijun Suzuki’s inventive image compositions of B&W and details in color, and is equally effective here in Wai Ka-Fai’s feature debut. The cinematography is superb and probably deserved its nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1995. The best-looking sequence is the swordplay showdown at the end of the film.
The big problem though is the lack of a driving force in the story. The whole plot idea revolving around a peace hotel (if we are allowed to employ the word ‘plot’ here without undermining the proper meaning of the word) – is as corny as its sounds. Chow Yun-Fat is as charismatic as always, but his energetic efforts are not enough to save the film. The dialogue tries to be deep and thoughtful at times but becomes just pretentious nonsense. Motives, actions and intentions are not very well defined and therefore the story becomes uninteresting pretty soon. The filming of the sword fight in the middle of the film is also below par: The picture is too muddled in order to see the action properly; the camera shakes back-and-forth and is out of focus.
Any marks of producer John Woo on the final film? Yes, there are. Chow Yun-Fat’s character ‘The Killer’ is obviously a nod to Woo’s 1989 action thriller, and in the opening segment there is an important scene with a white dove – the symbol of peace – the source of inspiration for The Killer to create his hotel. Also, a shoot-out sequence at the final showdown in the hotel where our hero is gunning down an army of bad guys on his own also echoes Woo in style. Even if Peace Hotel is not a landmark film in Hong Kong cinema the fans of the genre might find it entertaining for one or another reason, but otherwise it isn’t that much to write home about.
Optimum Releasing presents Peace Hotel in an anamorphic widescreen edition enhanced for 16:9 TVs. The picture quality is superb: Sharp and crystal-clear picture, perfect color tones and level of light. Even in the dark night scenes the visuals are perfect.
Cantonese is the only audio and English subtitles are forced. Chapter selection is the only extras. A good job by Optimum regarding the film itself although some collectors might be missing an extensive extras department.