Director: Kevin Ko
Cast: Bryant Chang, Jerry Huang, Julianne Chu, Kristian Brodie, Maria Ozawa, Kao Ying-Hsuan, Lene Lai, Vivi Ho, Liz Ran Yang, Joseph Ma
Duration: 95 mins.
By Paul Bramhall
Like any genre, horror is a genre that goes through phases. While in recent times we are increasingly seeing horror used as a theme to explore trauma, in the 2000s the genre was in a much more visceral place, the result of which saw the emergence of films that have been termed “torture porn”. . ‘. At the forefront were titles like Eli Roth’s Hostel (and its sequel) and that of James Wan Saw (which would spawn a total of 5 sequels in the 2000s alone), defined by how much gratuitous bodily harm could be inflicted on screen and the supposed pleasure viewers got from watching it. Obviously the Hollywood movies in question were far from pioneering the genre, with Japan probably being the creator of this specific niche, especially movies like 1998 Rolling meat dollwhich made their Western counterparts seem like PG-rated material in comparison.
What cannot be denied is that in the 2000s it was like a movie Hostel AND Saw that propelled this kind of genre offering into the limelight, and in Asia 2009 proved to be a fruitful year for those who liked their horror caked in blood and guts. Japan got into action with Koji Shirashi Grotesque (which remains banned in the UK to this day), in Indonesia the Mo Brothers made their feature film debut Macabreand another first-time director in the form of the wild Kevin Ko “Taiwan’s first slasher film” with By invitation only.
The narrative focuses on a low-paid pilot played by Bryant Chang (Eternal summer), who works as a driver for a corporate CEO, played by Jerry Huang (49 days). When Chang accidentally stumbles upon Huang having a backseat affair with a famous model, Huang buys her silence by offering an invitation ticket to an exclusive private function, which allows attendees to live out their wildest fantasies. Though initially reluctant, Huang insists that Chang can impersonate his cousin, convincing him to participate.
Once there Chang finds himself in the company of businessmen and high-class socialites, but soon becomes at ease when given the opportunity not only to have sex with his boss’s own model, but also to also given forever the Ferrari of his dreams. to measure. As expected though, things are too good to be true and, along with 4 other members of the group who have been invited under false pretenses, the 5 soon find themselves isolated from the other guests and hunted down by a masked, knife-wielding maniac. . Once captured, they are tied up and taken out in front of appreciative crowds to be tortured and mutilated in a variety of cruel, gasp-inducing ways, with the chances of escape becoming increasingly slimmer as time goes on.
If anything sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve seen it a bunch of times already, with the aforementioned Hostel being an obvious influence. However By invitation only it makes no pretense about what it’s there to do: an original story is clearly not the priority here, so much so as filling the screen with a variety of increasingly gory and uncomfortable scenes of torture and death. While Ko’s debut will certainly never be accused of being a big-budget affair, he’s obviously put all his resources where they matter most, and to that end the result is a spirited 90 minutes that wastes no time getting down to the nastiness that most will check in.
As an added incentive to draw in audiences, Ko also resorts to what is popularly known as stunt casting by giving (now former) half-Japanese, half-Canadian porn actress Maria Ozawa (Especially Tokyo) which is essentially an extended cameo. Ozawa was at the peak of his popularity in the late 2000s and By invitation only it would be the first time for her to move into a mainstream production. Notably, in the following years she starred in a couple of other mainstream productions, including Indonesian comedy Kidnap Miyabi (where she basically plays a version of herself) in 2010, and Filipino horror Creature in 2015. In By invitation only she’s hardly asked to do anything outside of her ballpark (perhaps the wrong expression to use), yet her performance (in which she speaks in English) as a seductive model is compelling, making her a welcome addition to the hard-hitting duration.
On the downside, her role also reveals some of the plot holes in the narrative, especially since once the reason why others are being hunted is revealed, the reason (or lack of) behind her own disappearance doesn’t necessarily make sense. Other minor details include a control room complete with surveillance monitors of the entire seemingly unmanned complex, as well as the whole point of wearing a mask when prey is going to be killed anyway, seeming like a futile effort. However, ultimately these are minor gripes that can be overlooked mainly because Ko executes gory set pieces with aplomb, even if they don’t necessarily pack dramatic punch.
Given that the target audience is the same demographic that has garnered similar genre offerings, Ko floods the screen with all manner of bodily harm involving fingernails, eyeballs, genitals, blunt force trauma to the face, and body dismemberment. It’s all executed using practical effects and delivers the expected gasp-inducing reaction as cast members are increasingly dipped into the red stuff through a variety of cruel and offbeat ways. Ironically, one of the most puke-inducing scenes is also the one that probably costs the least to shoot, as Chang’s hand explores a high ledge that, unbeknownst to him, is teeming with cockroaches. As a result he inadvertently crushes one under his finger, which is filmed as a complimentary close-up in all its gooey, gut-spewing glory. Fans of the likes of Centipede horror He may very well cheer up, but the scene made me lose my appetite for a few hours.
As the protagonist Chang is serviceable if slightly bland, with co-star Julianne Chu (Ghost stories) delivering a much livelier performance as another hunted guest. While her role is that of a classic scream queen (albeit involving a minimum of screaming), Chu’s character spends most of her time escaping certain death, hiding from certain death, and trying to disguise herself as a legitimate host to escape certain death. . The various dangerous situations that the script puts her in do an admirable job of heightening tension and injecting a sense of danger into the proceedings, preventing By invitation only from simply being a shock reel of gory effects and giving the audience someone to get behind whoever you want to see come to an end.
The party host is actually played by a foreigner, Kristian Brodie, his only credit as an actor and apparently the only time he’s ever dabbled in the film industry. Watching By invitation only in 2023 (when it received a Blu-ray release in the US courtesy of Movies discovered) it is easy to draw comparisons between his masked character and Lee Byun-hun’s role in the popular Squid game series (which also uses the trope of using an invitation card). While gweilo’s performance track record in Asian cinema is hardly stellar (remember this is the same decade that Paul Rudd starred in Gen-Y cops), Brodie delivers an effective if slightly stilted performance as the bit’s antagonist, with his eventual comeuppance as a climax.
While By invitation only offers nothing new or original (and I doubt many would argue that a car chase needed to be attempted), what it does offer is 90 minutes of gore and brutality, and I daresay it would do a welcome double count with The sadness, a more recent Taiwanese splatter fest that hit similar notes. If you like your horror served straight and with generous portions of gore, then as “Taiwan’s first slasher film”, By invitation only makes for an enticing proposition.
Rating by Paul Bramhall: 6.5/10