T he debut feature by 25-year-old director Kevin Ko (柯孟融), Invitation Only (絕命派對) is Taiwan’s answer to the genre of horror films made popular by the Saw and Hostel film series. With a cast of pretty idols and sexy models, the film is a 90-minute ride of guilty thrills that combines graphic violence, repulsive torture and sexually suggestive imagery with bitter commentary on a wealth-obsessed society.
Promising actor Bryant Chang (張睿家) plays Wade, an ordinary guy who makes his living by running errands and chauffeuring around his wealthy young boss, known as President Yang (Jerry Huang, 黃志瑋). When Yang asks him to attend a private party by passing as a cousin, Wade is thrilled by the invitation to join the world of the rich, young and fabulous.
It turns out to be the best party ever. Wade wins big at gambling, enjoys a casual fling with supermodel Dana (Maria Ozawa) and makes new friends who include Hitomi (Julianne, 朱蕾安), Lin (Ma Kuo-hsien, 馬國賢) and Holly (He Chia-wen, 何嘉文).
The debauchery becomes a nightmare when the group finds pianist Robert brutally murdered. Hunted down one by one by a masked killer, Wade and his friends soon realize they are prey for a sadistic, high-society audience with a taste for the spectacle of torture and slaughter.
The invitees now have to fight back if they want to survive this killing game of the rich.
At its best, Invitation Only smartly plays with society’s obsession with the wealthy and the sense of unease over the widening gap between the elite and everybody else. The film effectively uses model Liz and Japanese AV idol Ozawa as disposable playthings and male model Huang as a young and powerful man of pedigree with a hint of menace.
Director Ko caught the attention of local film circles with his 2004 short horror flick The Print (鬼印), which circulated widely on the Internet while he was still a college student. In his debut feature, Ko follows the trend sparked by Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005) and conjures up visceral and frightful experiences through graphic portrayals of gore and violence. The narration is, however, carried out in a plain and sometimes uninspired manner that kills the suspense in the first third of the film.
The story picks up when the psychopathic killer begins to hack his way through his victims. With a stomach-churning shot in which Wade cuts off his own thumb and an extended torture scene where Holly is mutilated by a knife, this slasher film is guaranteed to make audiences fidget in their seats.
Spiced up with local zest, Invitation Only is a competent first effort that aims to cultivate an audience for a genre that is rarely tackled in Chinese-language cinema.