“Re-cycle” is a feast for CGI geeks but famine for auds requiring narrative and character development. Fantasy-cum-ghost story, about a young Hong Kong writer who enters the dark realm of her imagination with personal repercussions, is the most ambitious production yet by Hong Kong’s Pang Bros. (“The Eye”) and hoists a high flag for Asian visual f/x. However, it’s also the most extreme example of their propensity for ocular dazzle over emotional substance, limiting this one to young webheads and Asian obsessives. Ancillary bin biz looks strong.
Lee Sinje (aka Angelica Lee), from “The Eye” and “20 30 40,” plays young Chinese authoress Ting-yin, who’s hit the bestseller lists with a romantic novel under the pen name Xu Jun. She now feels pressure because her next novel, “Re-cycle,” has already been announced, and she’s suffering from a bad case of creative block. Holed up in her apartment, she starts suffering from visions and weird phone calls. As her sense of reality fragments, she journeys into the world of her unfinished manuscript — a city of discarded trash, ugly zombies and ghosts in limbo, where she hooks up with a mysterious young girl she names Ting-yu (Zeng Qiqi) and an old man (Lau Siu-ming). Thereon, pic is one long chase movie, with Ting-yin trying to get back to the real word via the Transit as she’s pursued by lonely dead souls and recurrent cycles in which everything is, uh, re-cycled. En route, she’s forced to confront an episode in her past.
That’s it for plot, which is basically a series of set pieces in computer-generated locations where Ting-yin is scared out of her wits. There’s a street of old-style Hong Kong tenement buildings, an impressive Escher-like conglomeration of staircases, a red-saturated journey through a womb-like receptacle of aborted fetuses, and a vast plain of tombs and their inhabitants.
Visual design and effects, largely in cold, drained colors, are all top-notch but there’s no over-riding meaning (or explanation) behind all the CG sizzle. Even the Transit — a gate between the real world and Ting-yin’s imagination — makes no logical sense: it just looks great on the widescreen. With no real script or depth to her character, looker Lee, one of East Asia’s brightest talents, is wasted in a screamer role.
Chinese title, which is the name of Ting-yin’s new book, literally means “Ghost Land.”