Secrets Of The Hot Spring (2018) could’ve been a gem. Its excellent production value and able cast could’ve steered this ship all the way to cult movie status. If only there were a better script and a premise that isn’t as flimsy as a cheesecloth. Instead, we got the most visually appealing, most extended episode of Scooby-Doo, which happens to be set in Taiwan.
The plot revolves around Hsiao-chin (Zhuang Tinghu), the prettiest hooligan on this side of Blue Spring (2002), with a tragic back story and a prickly exterior. Following him around are two other outcasts, a sleepwalker named Lu Qun (Lin Hequan) and a seemingly gay dude nicknamed Little Princess (Sing Hom). Though they’re far from friends, they decide to tag along anyway when Hsiao-chin is summoned to the site of his family business.
Currently run by his grandparents, the family business is a quaint hotel with a hot spring attached. When the boys reach the secluded hotel, situated somewhere in the mountains, they see a rundown and poorly maintained place that appears to be crumbling before their eyes. Grandpa (Lau Kar-ying) and Grandma (Zhu Mimi) are clearly having money problems. Unsurprisingly, charging guests outrageous miscellaneous fees for doing things like using the weighing scale or logging onto the ancient computer isn’t helping.
Things soon take a turn for the spooky. But seeing how this is a lost episode of Scooby-Doo, things stay relatively tame throughout. No real tension ever builds, and the creep factor is close to non-existent.
How Scooby-Doo Factors Into This
So, is Hsiao-chin’s family-owned hotel haunted? And if so, why is it haunted? And why doesn’t Hsiao-chin know about that? Also, if this was indeed a Scooby-Doo episode, who would each character play?
Hsiao-chin would be Fred, the lead “investigator” and the guy with the most motivation to get to the mystery’s bottom. Lu Qun is Shaggy but on a perpetual bad trip instead of a good one. Frequently morose and a chronic sleepwalker, he has a habit of derailing the investigation, much like how Shaggy often sets off Fred’s monster traps in Scooby-Doo. Little Princess is Scooby, the unquestionably loyal friend who’s along for the ride despite all the scary things that keep happening.
Something else convinces me that this is a long-lost episode of Scooby-Doo: the boys’ fear response. You know how Scooby and Shaggy often leap into each other’s arms when afraid? Yeah, that happens here a lot. Except here, the joke is not just about cowardice but something that smells far worse.
Scarier Than Ghosts
As his entire character is wrapped up in how supposedly effeminate he is and whether or not he is gay, Little Princess is the first one to demonstrate this abnormal fear response. He jumps onto Hsiao-chin, who brushes him off once the terror has fled, telling him not to “be like this.” The whole thing is played for laughs, ostensibly to show how “unmanly” he is. The boys’ adoption of this behavior later is implied to be shorthand for how terrifying things are. It also poses an uncomfortable question: if there was nothing to be afraid of and you accidentally hugged another guy for nothing, isn’t that even scarier than being haunted? The mere possibility of being seen as gay is absolute horror here.
Putting all this aside, the movie leads have great chemistry and display ample acting chops. You want to root for them, even if the script is lackluster. The sets are also wonderfully realized, especially the little dusty model of the hotel in the messy storeroom. The camera eats this all up, creating something that looks like a very expensive commercial for the movie’s theme: family.
Family is why Hsiao-chin’s grandparents run the little hotel despite their age. Family is why Hsiao-chin’s parents decided to open the hotel after their trip to one of Japan’s many onsens, to grow together in a place that will always be special to them. Family is why Hsiao-chin decides to play a more significant role in the family business after the curtains have been pulled back. As for the boys, they establish a sort of found family by surviving this ordeal together.
And misguided as it is, family is the reason behind Grandpa and Grandma’s big spoiler decision. How else could Secrets Of The Hot Spring have ended in true Scooby-Doo fashion? Let’s find out:
The Final Experiment
Hsiao-chin’s parents reappear and reveal that they are top government scientists who have devised this whole thing as an experiment to see if he is worthy of the family business. He is not.
Swimming In Beer
After ingesting an ungodly amount of mapo tofu and sharing a crate of Taiwan Beer between them, the boys fall into a deep sleep. They dream of being stuck together in an awful hotel with a hot spring attached. There is something familiar about the place that Hsiao-chin can’t shake. The hot spring is full of beer. Also, there are no toilets.
The Uninvited Tag-Along
Hsiao-chin is busy helping his grandparents out as curious thrill-seekers pack the hotel. Some of them mention a little girl in red following them around. Nobody knows who she is. Later, when the boys sing karaoke, she re-emerges, scaring the bejesus out of them. It is then revealed that she is Little Princess’s niece, who came running after recognizing his trademark cover of an A*Mei song.
May The Good Winds Prevail
The hauntings at the hotel go into hyperdrive. Later, the boys uncover a whole troupe of professional actors living in the hotel secretly as full-time ghosts. They tell him it’s all because of his estranged Uncle Yuen, a man who’s hatched many nefarious plans to seize the family property after being told the land has solid business feng shui.
The General’s Coin
The hauntings are back and this time it’s concentrated in the hot spring area. A ghostly general is seen scaring customers away. Of course, the general is later revealed to be Grandpa in costume. Hsiao-chin and friends later learn that this is due to rumors of a very valuable coin left behind by a general during the early years of Taiwan’s Martial Law period.