Write Down Your EVILEST Desire and Have It Become Reality. “Invitation Only” reviewed! (Unearthed Films / Blu-ray)

Have the “Invitation Only” Blu-ray Stapled to Your Face!  Purchase by Clicking the Cover Art Below!

Chauffeur driver Wade Chen wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  The humble, low-on-the-totem pole young man has dreams and aspirations of super models and sports cars but can’t even afford a new suit.  When Wade’s accidently catches his wealthy construction tycoon passenger, Mr. Yang, sexually engaged with the beautiful model of his dreams in the backseat of the limousine, the nice guy in him didn’t think too much of it, but Mr. Yang surprises Wade with an invitation to an exclusive, high-brow party.  Unable to attend the party himself, Mr. Yang sends Wade under the pretense of being the tycoon’s cousin and hooks him up with nice clothes and money for gambling.  At the party, Wade is joined by four others who are also first timers amongst the high-class guests and are greeted with welcoming arms by the host, Mr. Warren, who offers them their wildest dreams, whatever they desire, by manifesting them into reality, but their reality turns quickly into a nightmare when the party is a façade for the opulent to put on a stage show of hunting down, torturing, and gruesomely murder the poor who believe envying the rich degrades their lives.

A class dividing social commentary where the disillusioned rich continue to believe the lower-class are exploiting their pedestaled luxuries when, in reality, the wealthy continue to take an unfair advantage for their own benefit and whimsical desires!  Labeled as Taiwan’s very first slasher, Kevin Ko’s debut pecking order demarcating film specializes in serrating into the other half a sort of social class justice.  Ko, who continues to work in and around the East Asian market having just released last year his written and directed Chinese folkloric thriller “Incantation,” helms the gore heavy script from the screenwriting duo Sung In and Carolyn Lin as their only credited treatment.  Shot near entirely inside a dilapidated converted warehouse in Taipei City, “Invitation Only” becomes the entrapment and last straw abattoir for all classes looking up and salivating over the greedy greener grass separated by that invisible, money-driven, societal line.  Maxx Tsai (“Memoria”) and Michelle Yeh (“The Heirloom”) produce what some critics and fans might denote as torture porn and, truth be told, “Invitation Only” is very “Hostel”-esque with its plot revolving around deep pockets getting away with murder, literally.  The 2009 released film is a production of principal producer Michelle Yeh’s Three Dots Entertainment company.

What’s admirable about Kevin Ko’s “Invitation Only” is its hyper local aplomb. From Taipei City location to the mostly local cast from Taiwan, Ko’s feature is a celebration of Taiwan’s filmmaking life despite the plot being about taking lives. In the lead role, Bryant (Ray) Chang (“The Perfect Girl”) plays the passive doormat that is Wade Chen, a nice and principled guy but has no gumption to claw himself out of just scraping by in life. Chang’s no confidence spell over Chen is just want the doctor ordered when casting a bumbling nobody lost in the crowd and touching elbows with plutocrats eating escargot Tapas and drinking champagne. Chen immediately meets the sweetly awestruck Hitomi with a provided backbone persona by “The Ghost Tales” Julianne Chu. At this point you’re thinking Chen and Hitomi will hit it off, become love interests, and be the Formulaic heroes of the story at stemming from this connection.  Partially, that’s true, but then Chen quickly becomes beguiled by that very same supermodel of his dreams, the same supermodel he stumbled upon in the car with Mr. Yang (Jerry Huang, “49 Days”), who is now eating from his lucky-streaked hand at the roulette table.  Former JAV starlet Maria Ozawa is the delicate tigress who beds Chens in an offshoot room of the party to bring the on cloud nine chauffeur a taste of high society to a culminating head.  Ozawa, who left the adult industry and went on to have a modest genre film career to this day with principal roles in “Erotibot” and “Geisha of Death,” is intoxicating on screen in her debut mainstream feature, but the actress doesn’t speak a lick of Mandarin and forces English to the dialect conversation to which then Bryant Chang has forced the dynamics with poor English reciprocation.  In bed, Chang and Ozawa connect charismatically, but other than that, the dialogue exchanges can be painful to get through.  Other invitees on the “Invitation Only” casting list include Joseph Ma, Ying-Hsuan Kao, Vivi Ho, and another English speaker Kristian Brodie in the mix to balance out with Ozawa to make the film a Mandarin-English hybrid.

Being a product of the early 2000’s, at the backend of the first decade after the turn of the millennium, “Invitation Only,” with Kevin Ko’s quick, erratic editing style, very much epitomizes the era of time as a party-hardy, balls-to-the-wall, slasher with a survivalist edge. “Invitation Only’s” social commentary all but surely smacks you in the face with the fairly common theme of social class division, but the story twists the biding inner dark thoughts of the one percent upper class. The story evokes this justifiable fear amongst them where those willing to cheat, scam, and steal to obtain wealth from off the back of the wealthy deserve an unmerciful, unrelenting, and unpardoning execution with an affluent audience clapping and cheering their horrible mutilation and demise. With an unlimited cash at their disposal, to them, there are an unlimited number of ways to die, and Ko certainly illuminates that ragbag of weapons of bodily destruction every chance he gets. The annual gathering of denotes a “Purge” like affect that for once a year, for the last five years as the host, the English-speaking Mr. Warren, states, the Rich handpick lowly schemers for excruciating extermination. This year, however, a simple misjudgment of character foils a night of brain bashing and staple facing into the downfall of the Rich’s unscrupulous principles and steadfast convictions as Wade is a humble nice guy at the wrong place, wrong time blundering into Mr. Yang giving Ms. Supermodel the wang. The whole annual affair is the rich cathartically getting their hands dirty, purging their distaste with a medieval axe or with jumper cable attached to a car battery. Ko invites not only the wealthy getting away with murder but being utterly brutal about it without shame or guilt as if they are truly on top of the world. The kill scenes are gorgeously horrific with the Hollywood trained special effects artists to provide that it-factor when considering blood, guts, and dismemberments.

“Invitation Only” is exclusive extreme horror not for just for anyone. Gore genre distributor “Unearthed Films” knows this and rejoices in the niche market of everything that would usually make one squeamish. “Invitation Only” is the survival horror that refuses to be a party-pooper as the Kevin Ko film arrives onto a high definition, 1080p, AVC encoded Blu-ray. Presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1, this particular Unearthed Films product doesn’t convey my favorite transfer quality. The codec bitrate for a high-definition release is all over the place as there are severe dips in the Mbps that can be as high as mid-to-low 30Mbps to upper DVD quality around 9-13Mpbs. With that breadth of range, the transfer supplies an inconsistent quality in waves; some scenes are sharp and very delineated while when in the dip, the scenes fall from grace into a sea of pixel blocks in low-lit scenes that nearly wash out the image entirely. Color graded virtually nonexistent as Ko keeps the scheme along the lines of neutral coloring. There are three audio options for selection: a Mandarin, with some English, 5.1 DTS-HD, a Mandarin, with some English, 2.0 PCM, and an English 2.0 PCM. Discerning between the pair of Mandarin options proves less distinctive compared to the distinct dub, for oblivious reasons, but there’s an edge more deepening into the surround sound mix with an intensity richer soundtrack. The lossy dialogue tracks often sound flat and muted as the screams and frantic getaways never pierce the ear’s soul, but for the most part, dialogue is clear and clean. There’s also an issue with the release’s coding on the in-feature audio selection as I toggle between the three audio options, they’re all listed as English with their respective format and channel output. Bonus features include behind the scenes discussions from select cast, such as Bryant Chang, Maria Ozawa, and Jerry Huang, a photo gallery, and theatrical trailers. Unearthed Films’ release comes in a clear Blu-ray snapper case with latch and reversible cover art in which both art styles reflect the dark and grim brutality of the film’s thematic nature. With a runtime of 95 minutes, the unrated and region A coded release does have an evolving story to tell unlike its likeminded brethren that usually gets in and through the dirty, ugly business in just above an hour’s time to keep the gore porn from getting stale. For a feature debut, Kevin Ko goes all in on the knife’s edge with commentary-laden “Invitation Only,” a viciously cold take on the extreme cruelty genre when money, the root of all evil, divides our common sense against one another.

Have the “Invitation Only” Blu-ray Stapled to Your Face!  Purchase by Clicking the Cover Art Below!

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