Secrets In The Hot Spring is a Taiwanese horror-comedy with heart

(From far left) Lin He-hsuan, Sing Hong and Chang Ting-hu are entertaining in Secrets In The Hot Spring.
(From far left) Lin He-hsuan, Sing Hong and Chang Ting-hu are entertaining in Secrets In The Hot Spring.PHOTO: WARNER BROS

A strong chemistry shared by the characters, each with a distinct personality, makes this Taiwanese film watchable

REVIEW / HORROR COMEDY

SECRETS IN THE HOT SPRING

109 minutes/Now showing/3.5 stars

The story: High-school student Xiao Gin's (Chang Ting-hu) grandparents (Law Kar Ying and Mimi Chu) call him to help run the family-owned hot-spring resort during the holidays. He reluctantly goes there, but not without his two new classmates Lu Qun (Lin He-hsuan) and Little Princess (Sing Hong) tagging along.

Who knew that a goofy horror-comedy flick could contain so much heart?

Despite the occasional jump scares and the ridiculous slapstick gags, what elevates this Taiwanese offering from other films that have attempted to combine horror and comedy in the past, is the genuine emotion in this story.

It is what many Singaporean horror-comedies have never managed to achieve - think The Ghosts Must Be Crazy (2011) and Where Got Ghost? (2009) - as they offered nothing more than cheap scares and easy laughs.

But Secrets In The Hot Spring - not a sleazy R21 film even if it sounds like it - takes time to develop the characters, especially that of protagonist Xiao Gin.

There are several questions surrounding him from the start: Why has he transferred high schools at least three times? And why does he despise his family-owned hot-spring resort so much?

These are all given proper, believable answers by the time the film ends and some of the reasons may even touch you.

The best part about the film, however, has to be the strong chemistry that Xiao Gin shares with his two classmates.

Each of the three boys has his own way of dealing with the creepiness of the resort.

Xiao Gin is the braver and cooler one, or at least he pretends to be; Little Princess lets out high-pitched screams; and Lu Qun sleepwalks through it all, sometimes unintentionally.

The boys manage to play to their distinct personalities and strengths to face their fears as a group. And, often, the results are very funny.

Supporting the boys here are the equally hilarious elderly couple played by Hong Kong veterans Chu and Law.

They often look like they are having a blast as they attempt to keep straight faces while saying the most ridiculous things, including when they randomly bust out lines in Cantonese.

In Taiwan, the film received such strong early reviews that some netizens questioned if they were faked. But trust the word out there - this is fun, entertaining and, surprisingly, heartfelt.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2018, with the headline 'Horror-comedy with heart'. Print Edition | Subscribe