Five friends meet at a bar on Halloween and swap scary stories in which they each portray different characters. In "Lost" wheelchair-bound Ai Mi (lingerie model-turned-ubiquitous-film star Chrissie Chau) is trapped alone in her apartment on a dark and stormy night with the raincoat-clad killer she believes murdered her sister. Hapless cop Lee Wei (Qi Yu-Wu) struggles to save her life only to find things are not what they seem. "One Way Street" concerns journalist Dean (Taiwanese singer Van Fan), a deadbeat divorced dad coping with cute little daughter Ting Ting while mom is away on business. Driving through the ominously fog-shrouded woods, a moment's distraction leads Dean to hit a man with his car. But the body is nowhere to be found. A split-second later Dean sees that his daughter has vanished. He is waylaid by a sexy but unhelpful lady cop in a leather catsuit (Chrissie Chau) before someone drives off in his car. What the hell is going on? A perky science babe (Jill Hsu) living deep in the woods has the answer.
Which brings us to "Nurse on Duty" wherein beautiful Xiao Lu (Deng Jia-Jia) goes to work at an insane asylum where the sexy staff (including, you guessed it, Chrissie Chau) wear naughty nurse outfits more wet dream than healthcare appropriate. Slasher icons Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kruger are among the inmates on Xiao Lu's care roster, as is Michael Jackson (!) along with a guy so obsessed with deciphering Inception (2010) he believes he is reliving the movie. Spooky patient A Liang (Huang Yida) urges Xiao Lu to find out why the chief administrator mysteriously vanished, aided by stoically handsome Doctor Dean (Van Fan again) who is certain the maniacal head nurse (Kingdom Yuen King-Tan) is responsible. Things unravel into an outbreak of radio-controlled zombies, which allows MJ to recreate the Thriller video, before a mind-bending twist brings things back to the five hip young things at the bar.
Frankly they had me at Chrissie Chau and Deng Jia-Jia in naughty nurse outfits. Ahem. Horror anthologies were few and far between in Hong Kong cinema back when the genre was in its heyday in Seventies Europe, aside from the odd literary adaptation like Li Han-hsiang's prestigious erotica The Ghost Story (1978). Things picked up in the late Nineties when schlock staple Herman Yau racked up six movies in his Troublesome Night series. Lately, the horror anthology has made a comeback. Hot on the heels of Wong Jing's uneven Hong Kong Ghost Stories (2011) newcomer Fang Xa-Xi debuts with this deliriously inventive albeit sporadically hit-and-miss outing. Aspects of Any Other Side, whose Mandarin title translates as the more appropriate Nightclub Suspense Tale, will seem over-familiar to seasoned Hong Kong horror fans. These include the identity-swap sting-in-the-tail in "Lost" that evokes Oxide Pang's psychological thriller Diary (2007) and the film's mind-bending post-modern denouement which is similar in concept to the outstanding Re-cycle (2006) co-directed with sibling Danny Pang.
Overall however, Xa-Xi pulls off a flashy but interesting exercise in style as substance. Though the tone wavers from taut suspense thriller to Ray Bradbury-esque whimsy and eventually wacky screwball comedy, sort of Hellzapoppin' with zombies, he sustains an intensely eerie atmosphere off the back of ingenious camera trickery: subliminal edits, visible scratch marks that replicate grainy VHS tape, switches from black and white to muted colour, frames that morph into manhua comic panels and the odd flourish of Mario Bava candy colours. He also draws disarmingly committed, contemplative performances from his cast of pop stars and models including Chrissie Chau who continues to prove she has more range as an actress than her background might suggest. While the framing story sets up some tangled romantic relationships, the individual segments wax lyrical about the boundaries between reality and unreality and their relation to romantic ennui in a manner that evokes the cinema of Wong Kar-Wai and Richard Linklater as much as a Pang Brothers chiller.
"Lost" wrings a few drops of solid suspense from that reliable old chestnut about the girl trapped in a house with a killer, updating the formula as the action unfolds via smartphones, laptops and surveillance cameras. It builds to an effective denouement in the style of Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected with a closing reference to Psycho (1960), but the stand-out tale is "One-Way Street." Trapping its flawed hero in a nightmarish temporal loop, this mind-bending time travel story is dreamlike and unsettling but with a playful sense of humour. It is an unexpected charmer. By contrast, "Nurse on Duty" is thoroughly ridiculous and nonsensical only good-naturedly so, provided you are in the right frame of mind. Imagine The Kingdom (1994) re-interpreted by the creative team behind Airplane (1980) although certain elements suggest Fang Xa-Xi might have a passing familiarity with cult British comedy-horror series Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. Ominous cinematography ensures this looks as great as the other segments and plays its suspense elements largely straight save for that irresistible homage to Thriller complete with Vincent Price's cackle. Full of movie in-jokes the action only gets nutty with zombies on the rampage, a trio of would-be superheroes styling themselves after Marvel Comics characters, Chau slinging ninja syringes from her garter, and Jia-Jia's hapless heroine wielding a giant syringe-shaped laser cannon to the theme from A Better Tomorrow (1986). Sure, on one level it's a poser horror flick that is not as clever as it thinks it is, but is lively and fun plus, hey, Chrissie Chau in a naughty nurse outfit. Come on.