The closing night film for this year’s NYAFF is Adam Tsuei’s dark comedy The Tenants Downstairs. This new Taiwanese feature follows a Landlord (Simon Yam) who runs an apartment building full of a colorful cast of people. We have a young guy obsessed with gaming and teleportation, a gay couple hiding their relationship, a sexy woman who loves being involved with affairs, a divorced gym teacher with domestic violence issues, a mysterious girl in white and a sexually frustrated single father who lives alone with his young daughter. With cameras set up everywhere, including the tenants’ apartments, the Landlord decides to introduce subtle changes into each of their lives in an effort to spice up their existence.
Tsuei does a pretty good job of bringing beloved screenwriter Giddens Ko’s script (and apparently controversial novel) to life. It’s a twisty tale of seduction, obsessions and what happens when a man is given the opportunity to play God. What starts off as innocent play eventually takes darker and darker turns as the Landlord continus to set everyone up to so that they can bring out their shadiest sides. While the story of a degenerate peeping Tom begins innocently, I certainly didn’t expect it to get as wild and sadistic as it did. There were some fun twists in there that really increased my genre viewing pleasure.
There’s a lot to like about The Tenants Downstairs except for one, large glaring mistake: Simon Yam was an absolutely terrible fit for the lead. The seemingly ageless 61 year-old actor has turned into the Hong Kong version of Robert DeNiro in my eyes. A once great actor who takes on roles he shouldn’t be taking, delivering laughable performances that frustrate me to no end. The last time I enjoyed a Yam performance was in 2010’s Echoes of the Rainbow, a terrific drama that made the honorable mention list of my Top 10 list for that year. Seeing Yam as a disheveled and twisted peeping landlord doesn’t work if he still manages to look pretty when all dirtied up. It also doesn’t help that I rarely buy his performance, the combo of his look and delivery makes everything feel off. I wish this wasn’t the case because the rest of the film was pretty interesting. That being said, he was able to hide the most important part of the film pretty well, so I will commend him and the director for that one.
The Tenants Downstairs is one of those films I’d rather not dissect too much because I think it’ll ruin the film for anyone that plans on watching it. Outside of my opinion of Yam, the movie is weird, vicious and occasionally pretty damn funny, collectively making it something worth watching for those who love the eclectic tastes of the NYAFF. There are a lot of elements at play that work really well and characters that I, surprisingly, have never encountered before in a film…or at least certain traits. It made me want to seek out and read Giddens Ko’s novel. If you like genre cinema and are looking for a dark and twistedly funny movie then I would recommend checking this one out.