Staff Recommendation/ Hotel Black Cat

Cornerhouse Digital Reporter Joe Tyrrell reviews Hotel Black Cat

Nestled amongst the bright lights of Taiwan, a small, kitsch hotel houses eight very different individuals, leading their seemingly banal lives with little interaction between each other.  On the surface everything seems fine, but delve a little deeper and each has a secret waiting to be explored. Hotel Black Cat, the first film from contemporary Taiwanese director Herb Hsu, is an emotional rollercoaster that explores its characters unfortunate pasts and lonely presents.

Visually striking from the outset, with a sense of colour reminiscent of Tom Ford’s A Single Man, Hotel Black Cat is a joy to watch in terms of its stunning mise-en-scène. Coupled with the fun and innovative soundtrack, this lends the film a certain spritely brightness. Yet whilst this may be enjoyable, it is questionable whether such elements distract from the sad and often brutal events that take place in each characters life, or serve to highlight them in vivid juxtaposition. Personally, I would be inclined to suggest the former, as I often found myself somewhat unable to empathise, which does detract a little from our involvement as a viewer.

It is this lack of involvement that distracts from Hotel Black Cat’s otherwise numerous achievements. For example, flashbacks offer us insight into the guest’s pasts, providing glimpses of the murder, rape and humiliation that have led each one to their solitary existence within the hotel. These revelations intersperse somewhat incongruous scenes of their current lives, which means that chances are missed to provide greater depth to our understanding of the torment that each character has gone through.

Whilst Hotel Black Cat may not be entirely successful in its portrayal of emotional distress, what is more convincing is the process of healing that we see each character go through. Although the scenes depicting their everyday lives can sometimes seem trivial in relation to the traumas that we have just witnessed, friendships are born and relationships are renewed in a way that is anything but heart-warming. It is these developments that create meaning within the character’s lives and provide the film with a warm overtone that makes it a joy to watch.

Peppered with a soft (albeit dark) comical element, Hotel Black Cat is most certainly an enjoyable and interesting piece of cinema, no doubt enhanced by the visually arresting shots and vivid mise-en-scène. Even though it sometimes lacks the capacity to fully involve the viewer in some of the more sinister aspects, one cannot help coming away a little warmed by both style and substance.

We are pleased to welcome Hotel Black Cat actress and director Herb Hsu Li-wen for a post-screening Q&A, chaired by Andy Willis, Reader in Film Studies at The University of Salford and Asia Triennial Manchester 11 film curator on Sat 26 Nov. Buy tickets for the film and Q&A here.