Shortly after I arrived for what would prove to be a glorious summer living, working and partying in Hawaii as a 19-year-old, a mostly Polynesian co-worker at the airport car-rental lot warned me, “If you are driving at night and see a lady in a white dress alongside the road, don’t pick her up.”
Years later, when I got around to investigating the urban legend, I discovered it was bum advice. Pele, Hawaii’s goddess of fire, is the lady in white, and you are supposed to give her a ride because she will disappear as you drive off but leave behind good luck.
There are similar apparition legends around the planet, including in Taiwan, where “The Little Girl in Red” has been spun into two successful horror films. The Tag-Along, which premiered in November 2015, became the island nation’s best-selling horror film. The Tag-Along 2, which was released last August, not only surpassed its prequel at the Taiwanese box office, but it also became the top domestic hit of 2017.
It arrived here Feb. 6 on digital and on demand and is to be released April 3 on DVD in the States.
Having not seen The Tag-Along before being offered the opportunity to watch the sequel, I accepted an offer to take in both from Cinedigm, which is distributing them in America. The Tag-Along 2 stands on its own, although if you do see the two films in order, you will better appreciate the struggle of Shen Yi-chun (Hsu Wei-ning), who appears in both.
In The Tag-Along, Yi-chun is a modern, liberated radio personality who resists the idea of settling down with her boyfriend, Ho Chih-wei (River Huang). That’s largely because of her lack of desire to have children and her property-agent boyfriend’s clinginess to his live-in grandmother, Ho Wen Shu-fang (Liu Yin-shang), whom Yi-chun is convinced hates her.
One day, Grammy disappears, but her domestic duties—laundry, house cleaning, meal making—mysteriously continue to get done. As Chin-wei tries desperately to find Shu-fang, he discovers on video from a neighbor’s camera that while the grandmother was on a hike, she was being trailed by a little girl dressed in red. Later, on home-security footage, a similar-looking young figure is seen leading Shu-fang out of her yard.
But suddenly, Grandma returns, and Chin-wei goes missing. That sends Yi-chun on a search that leads her to the Red Forest in the nearby mountains, “The Little Girl in Red” legend and the horrors that accompany both. I won’t give away The Tag-Along’s ending but will note a sonogram image that pops up during the end credits sets up The Tag-Along 2.
The sequel begins by focusing on different characters. Li Shu-fen (Rainie Yang) is a social worker who discovers during a welfare check that a mysterious woman is hiding her young daughter. Lin Mei-hua (Francesca Kao) and her little girl are covered with spells written on their skin, and the mother screams bloody murder—as in that’s what will happen to her daughter—when Shu-fen forcibly separates them.
She later discovers her own daughter, teenager Li Ya-ting (Ruby Chan), is pregnant, giving the mother two mysteries to solve: Who is the daddy, and what’s up with Mei-hua, her kid and the body art? That’s soon followed by a third mystery: Where did Ya-ting disappear to?
The mother’s search takes her to the mountains, where she discovers dad-to-be Lin Chun-kai (Wu Nien-hsuan). At least he already has a job: As the Tiger Lord, he writhes around on all fours like a bloodhound, uncovering metaphysical clues—and one of Ya-ting’s shoes. That leads Shu-fen to an abandoned hospital, the pregnant and formerly missing Yi-chun (’member her from the prequel?), and the sad news that Chin-wei and Shu-fang had died.
A babbling mess when Shu-fen meets her, Yi-chun will join with Mei-hua to help Shu-fen find Ya-ting at—where else?—the Red Forest.
The casts of both films make the worldly and otherworldly believable. In these #MeToo, Time’s Up, post-Weinstein days, it’s refreshing to see the three main characters of The Tag-Along 2 are women, and none is called upon to be a sex symbol. It helps that the actors have, in Cheng Wei-hao, a director who in both films expertly amps up the human emotion, supernatural surprises and assorted freakiness. Credit also the imaginative scripts from Chien Shih-keng, who got an assist from co-writer Yang Wan-ju on the prequel.
Perhaps the most frightening thing of all are the true-life incidents that informed the movies. In 1998 Taichung, a family looking at video of a relative who had since died saw that person being followed by a little girl in red. The family member who provided a TV station with the video died shortly thereafter in a car crash. That same year in the same area, a driver followed a little girl in red, but she suddenly disappeared in heavy mountain fog. The driver almost careened off a cliff after a sharp turn. A massive search was launched in Hualien in 2014, when an 80-year-old woman went missing during a trip. Found under a giant rock five days into the search, the woman explained she had been taken there by a little girl in red.
Keep your good luck; I ain’t picking up anybody.
The Tag-Along 2 was directed by Cheng Wei-hao; written by Chien Shih-keng; and stars Rainie Yang, Francesca Kao and Hsu Wei-ning. Now available on iTunes, Amazon, other digital platforms and cable-TV on-demand.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.