On paper, the two horror genres comprising Oxide Pang's latest opus dovetail neatly. But on screen, all emotional investment is slanted toward the heroine's descent-into-madness. Still, pic almost makes up in stylistic panache what it lacks in thoughtful through line and reps a worthy entry in the Pang Brothers canon. Solid fan base might support marginal theatrical play before healthier cable and DVD sales kick in.

On paper, the two horror genres comprising Oxide Pang’s latest opus — a “Repulsion”-type psychological thriller and a sadistic slasher movie — dovetail neatly. But on screen, all emotional investment is slanted toward the heroine’s descent-into-madness; the serial killer plot, introduced in the last 40 minutes, reads more as a nightmarish afterthought than as the distorted mirror-image of the heroine’s obsessions. Still, pic almost makes up in stylistic panache what it lacks in thoughtful through line and reps a worthy entry in the Pang Brothers canon. Solid fan base might support marginal theatrical play before healthier cable and DVD sales kick in.

Jiney (pop star Race Wong, half of the music duo “2R”), a beautiful, rich and talented art student, feels something is missing. With best friend/lesbian lover Jas (Rosanne Wong, Race’s real-life sister and the other half of “2R”), she roams the city photographing temples, trees and underpasses, seeking an aesthetic quality that eludes her.

Artistic inspiration strikes in a form that would not be out of place in Cronenberg’s “Crash”: Jiney passes a traffic accident and, in the thrall of some inner compulsion, photographs the body of a female pedestrian lying face-up on the road. She becomes obsessed with photographing death, capturing a suicidal woman’s falling body in mid-flight.

She then pays a chicken peddler to decapitate his wares in rapid sequence so she can shoot their successive death throes from various angles. In painting class, she traces a line of blood from the nude model’s head to her toes, reproducing not what she sees but what she hallucinates.

At the same time, a long-repressed childhood trauma — her sexual abuse by a trio of little boys — surfaces via sepia-tinted flashbacks. When fellow-student Anson (Anson Leung), who follows her around with a camcorder, scares her by lurking outside her opulent glass-enclosed apartment, she takes revenge by photographing him awash in red paint, wielding a knife that threatens to spill the blood that the paint is obviously symbolizing.

Jiney then comes completely unglued, helmer Pang having a field day with red darkrooms, dripping gore and snapshots of dead birds, dogs and people.

Pulled back from the edge by girlfriend Jas, Jiney no sooner exorcises her demons than a mysterious videotape labeled “Take a Look” materializes on her doorstep. The tape features a masked figure horrendously beating a young woman to death with a lead pipe while a battery of cameras and camcorders flash and whir.

The set-up is classic “two sides of the same coin”-type stuff. But even though all the proper plot machinery is in place, Pang’s treatment of the masked stalker is perfunctory at best.

Compared to the heady beauty of Jiney’s morbid otherworldliness, the gaze of the stalker-killer fails to come across as either creepily voyeuristic or truly threatening. Instead, as in the Pang Brothers’ “The Eye,” it is the heroine’s dreamy subjectivity that dominates the film, the script setting up generic expectations that helmer seemingly has no particular interest in following up on.

Tech credits are ace, Pang’s signature artistry with music and sound-effects very much in evidence here.

Ab-normal Beauty

Hong Kong

Production

A Universe Entertainment presentation of a Magic Head Film production. Produced by the Pang Brothers. Executive producer, Daneil Lam. Co-producer, Alvin Lam. Directed by Oxide Pang. Screenplay, Oxide Pang, Pak Sing Pang.

Crew

Camera (color), Decha Srimantra; editor, Curran Pang; music, Paymont Permsith; art director, Sirant Ratchsanti; costume designer, Surasak Warakijcharoen; sound (Dolby Digital, DTS), Surapron Pinyosub, Tse Yiu Kay; special effects, The Post Bangkok; casting, Thanyathon Samaepak. Reviewed at New York Asian-American Film Festival, July 22, 2005. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Race Wong, Rosanne Wong, Anson Leung, Michelle Mee. (Cantonese dialogue)
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