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Ab-normal Beauty
   |     review    |     awards     |     availability     |   


Top left: Race Wong prepares to snap.
Lower left: Anson Leung attempts to understand the script.
Right: 2R bandmates Rosanne Wong and Race Wong debate the morality of sisters playing lovers.
Year: 2004
Director: Oxide Pang Chun
Producer: Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang Fat
Cast: Race Wong Yuen-Ling, Rosanne Wong Yuen-Kwan, Anson Leung Chun-Yat, Michelle Mai Shuet, Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin (cameo)
The Skinny: Bravura direction from Oxide Pang more than makes up for an over-the-top and uncomfortably ugly third act. Ab-normal Beauty works best when star Race Wong is center stage, and not the contrived evil of S&M stalkers. Oxide Pang and brother Danny are easily two of Hong Kong Cinema's most exciting talents.
  Review
by Kozo:

     Oxide Pang, of the celebrated Pang Brothers, directs Ab-normal Beauty, an atmospheric thriller and minor companion piece to brother Danny Pang's Leave Me Alone. In that film, Danny Pang told the tale of twin brothers played by Ekin Cheng, one of whom got into a car accident, leaving a woman dead. That same car accident figures into Ab-normal Beauty, as the sight of that dead woman serves as an awakening for Jiney, the titular beauty of the film. Played by Race Wong of pop duo 2R, Jiney is a troubled and talented young woman whose best friend/potential lover is played by real-life sister Rosanne Wong, also of 2R. Let's look at that again: two real-life sisters are playing possible lesbian lovers in a dark, and even sexually-charged horror thriller. Besides being something the Twins would never do, doesn't the whole setup seem just a bit creepy?
     Younger 2R member Race Wong is Jiney, an attractive, but morose college student whose photography hobby takes a suspiciously dark turn. Jiney is more interested in urban still lifes than photos of living, breathing individuals, and boys aren't interesting to her either. Blandly handsome Anson (Universe Entertainment young turk Anson Leung) has his eye on Jiney, but she couldn't care less. She's all about her photos and quality time with best bud Jas (older 2R member Rosanne Wong). The two are inseparable, though supposedly platonic friends. However, when Anson shows interest in Jiney, Jas sticks out her lower lip and acts like it's the end of the world. Will Jas express her true feelings for Jiney before Anson steps in? And will the audience be able to handle the idea of two real-life sisters playing possible lesbian lovers?
     Putting that aside, Ab-normal Beauty hits overdrive when Jiney happens by a car crash. Some idiotic driver (Ekin Cheng in a Leave Me Alone cameo!) kills a woman, and the sight of the lifeless human piques Jiney's interest. She was already on the lifeless flesh freight train, having become fascinated with dead birds and dogs, but a dead human being gives her orgasmic chills. Even more, taking a picture of that dead human being is an even bigger thrill, which launches the most exciting question of the entire film: how far will Jiney go to satisfy her new jones? Will she actively look for dead people, or even go out of her way to create one? Are Jas or Anson in any danger? And why is Jiney so messed up? What's her depressing deal that makes her a potential moodkiller at parties? If Oxide Pang doesn't explain what's going on, there's a word for this: weak.
     Thankfully, he does explain what's happening, and the way he does it is quite compelling. Pang provides flashbacks to Jiney's not-so-happy childhood, but the real interest occurs with Jiney's day-to-day descent into self-destruction. Not that the actual events and reasons presented are that exciting, but Oxide Pang brings astonishingly sure direction to his morbid tale. Alternating between unrelenting style (highlighted by the trademark Pang Brothers bombastic soundtrack) and slow-moving, immersive exposition, Ab-normal Beauty builds upon the storytelling promise Oxide Pang (and brother Danny) showed in both The Eye and The Eye 2. The film's art direction and cinematography match Pang's clean, almost starkly disturbing world. Ab-normal Beauty looks and feels like quality cinema, which is usually half the battle for today's artifice-obsessed filmgoers.
     But then there's the other half of the battle: content. Ab-normal Beauty wins that battle handily for nearly two-thirds of its running time. Again, Jiney's psycho-emotional journey is not that novel, but the film's style and newcomer Race Wong's performance is enough to compensate. As part of 2R, Universal Music's answer to EEG's juggernaut Twins, Race Wong and sister Rosanne have their work cut out for them. Neither is as product-picture perfect as either Gillian Chung or Charlene Choi, so it's not surprising if the dynamic EEG duo smacks around 2R in a Q-rating challenge. On the other hand, the sisters' more natural look makes them much more suited to a dark, potentially daring film like this one, and Race Wong is remarkably compelling here. She doesn't do much more than display increasingly despondent emotions, but her presence is most definitely felt - especially when compared to sister Rosanne, or Anson Leung, who could win the "Blank Hunk of the Year" award. It's questionable if her performance is indicative of actual talent (Race Wong also appeared in Wong Jing's Love is a a Many Stupid Thing, not that anyone noticed or cared.), but at the very least, Race Wong deserves some chances at meatier roles.
     As for Oxide Pang, he deserves many more chances to work his storytelling skills—and hopefully, it'll be with a better script than this one. Ab-normal Beauty is good stuff for two-thirds of its running time, but the final third sinks into a stalker plotline that's more ugly than compelling. Snuff films and S&M psychos make their presence known, and the film's climax is as sloppy as it is inherently tense. Pang ratchets up the tension big time, and it seems to work, but the undercurrent of Ab-normal Beauty is one of almost lurid fetishism. The main interest in seeing Race and Rosanne Wong get threatened physically and sexually is that it's something you'd never see happen to the Twins - but that's about it. Otherwise, checking out Race Wong tied up in her slip smacks of utter exploitation. Maybe Pang hopes he can titillate and thrill his audience simultaneously, but at some point it just seems like bad taste. Still, there's an interesting and even compelling movie in Ab-normal Beauty; it's just a questionably comfortable, or even appropriate one. (Kozo 2005)

Awards: 24th Hong Kong Film Awards
• Nomination - Best New Artist (Race Wong Yuen-Ling)
• Nomination - Best Visual Effects (Narin Visitak)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Universe Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
"Making of" featurette, Trailers, Audio commentary, Deleted scenes
 

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