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Diary
     

(left) A lonely Charlene Choi, and (right) Charlene Choi and Shawn Yue.
Chinese: 妄想
Year: 2006  
Director: Oxide Pang Chun  
Producer: Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang Fat
Cast: Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin, Shawn Yue, Isabella Leong
The Skinny: On a technical level, Diary definitely impresses, and Charlene Choi is very effective in the addled lead role. However, despite the solid visuals and mood, Diary becomes predictable and even gratuitous. The ride may seem good, but it doesn't go anywhere.
 
Review
by Kozo:

Avoiding possible spoilage of Diary? If so, you should probably read something else, like the liner notes of (Note: blatant cross-promotion ahead) "Ho Hoo Tan", the latest CD from those ubiquitous Twins girls. Directed by the equally ubiquitous Pang Brothers, Diary is a psychological thriller that delivers heavily on the psychosis. Charlene Choi stars as Winnie Leung, an adorable perfume counter girl with a major problem: she suffers from delusions, with an option on full-blown schizophrenia. When we first meet her, she's preparing dinner for her boyfriend Seth, who never answers his phone and seems to be having a hard time finding his way home. Once the meal has grown cold, Winnie realizes the awful truth: Seth has left quietly, taking his belongings elsewhere rather than suffer another day from Winnie's claustrophobic attentions. Winnie commiserates with her pal (Isabella Leong in a rather small role) before looking all over the place for Seth, who still can't be found. Did the guy just drop off the face of the earth?

No, because Winnie's account of her daily life is heavily flawed. Director Oxide Pang reveals early on that Winnie isn't mentally healthy; her delusional/schizophrenic tendencies are explained in a clinical voiceover, which accompanies a series of "A/B comparison" shots of Winnie reacting to stuff that may or may not be there. We see Winnie cowering in fear from nothing, gazing in wonder at the sky, and being startled in a completely empty room. Pang then repeats the shots with inserted CGI and sound effects; in Winnie's mind, she's cowering in fear from a black cloud approaching through her window, she's gazing at an imagined snowfall, and she's frightened by giant puppet clambering through her flat just a few feet behind her. We also see Winnie visiting Seth's workplace, where she's informed that he's quit. A few minutes later, the scene repeats in black-and-white, except this time the receptionist states that nobody named Seth works there. Clearly, Winnie's account of things cannot be trusted.

However, the filmmakers can't be trusted, either. Oxide Pang does tell us that Winnie is a few miles south of reality, but he neglects to set up consistent rules as to what is trustable and what isn't. Winnie's delusions are seen in color, and reality in black-and-white, right? Maybe not, because many of the "real" shots appear in color, and some of the "fake" ones in black-and-white too. Winnie never finds Seth, but she does pick up Ray (Shawn Yue), a nice fellow who takes a shine to the emotionally-troubled girl. The two start a romance, but things seem disturbingly uncertain; Winnie keeps bringing up Seth, which sometimes pisses off Ray. Sometimes, while listening to Winnie talk about Seth or her feelings, Ray starts getting a noticeable "deer in the headlights" look, as if he just realized that he's dating that girl from Audition. However, at other times, Ray is sullen and morose, like a guy who's had the life sucked out of him by overexposure to EEG-funded sweetness. What's really happening here?

Well, nothing may be happening, because again, Winnie isn't telling the complete truth. One of her hobbies is writing in her personal diary, which purportedly contains the real truth - or so we're led to believe. At one point, it's even suggested that Winnie's reality is being created by her diary musings. Cue massive lightbulb - of course it is! Regardless if the truth in the diary is the real one, it's obvious that Winnie is the sole manufacturer of her daily experience - ergo, the audience is getting a faceful of Winnie-created reality. Once the audience figures out that it's the world according to Winnie - and they should fairly early - Diary quickly becomes a game of "what's real and what's not." Was Seth real? Is Ray real? How about pal Isabella? These questions seem larger in the beginning, but as the film progresses it becomes fairly obvious what's being produced by Winnie's overactive imagination. The question then becomes where all this is headed.

Duh, it's headed for the big reveal - or the big twist, as we normally call it. Well, the Pangs deliver more than one big twist, which is where the film goes from intriguing to annoying and then finally unfulfilling. Winnie's delusions eventually hit their peak, and when things finally give, we get...the Pang Brothers' screen credit! Bizarrely, the prolific directing/producing duo choose to deliver their screen credit a full hour after everyone else's. The effect is basically that they pause the film to triumphantly remind us, "This is a Pang Brothers film, and don't you forget about it!" However, the unorthodox self-congratulation also damages the film's suspension of disbelief, which until then was quite potent. The common reaction when seeing their screen credit appear is probably to check your watch, thinking that the film has reached its end. Actually, it hasn't, and is only gearing up for its final third, which delivers a couple of haunting twists, some labored explanation, and then a final twist that's bewildering in its sheer lack of necessity (at least to non-EEG fans). All the ending really demonstrates is that Winnie is more than just deluded - she's SUPER deluded. Do we really need a twist to explain that?

Probably not, but perhaps Diary needed a little padding because it's a fairly slight film. Basically, the film is one long illusion followed by the multiple explanations as to what was real and what wasn't. On a deeper level, it's an unsettling portrait of schizophrenia vis a vis intriguing details, decent acting, and some fine filmmaking technique. As Winnie, Charlene Choi is very effective, using her squeaky-clean demeanor to mask a disturbing instability. The performance is sometimes too obvious in its showy tics, but Choi carries the film well, and is aided and abetted by Oxide Pang's exemplary use of image and editing. Sometimes Pang hints at far greater horrors than the film's IIB rating would likely allow, and though he doesn't always deliver, the unsettling nature of what he's presenting does sink in. Diary works best when it allows the viewer's imagination to run wild. The dark atmosphere and sometimes icky imagery can certainly help the easily frightened scare themselves. If you find Charlene Choi mildly frightening, then a viewing of Diary would undoubtedly intensify that feeling.

Diary's technical prowess is what prevents the film from becoming a total loss. The film is basically told with one set and a few minor locations, and it's impressive how much the crew can get out of such simple environments. The cinematography, art direction, sound, and general atmosphere all bring an artful edge to an otherwise minor production. Diary looks and feels like quality stuff, and Oxide Pang's direction goes a long way in making that quality almost real. There's a tangible tension and expectation built-up by the direction and the performances - but the film unfortunately falters when it can't deliver anything beyond the obvious. Basically, everything that occurs demonstrates that Winnie is, indeed, quite disturbed, which we basically discovered only ten minutes into the film. The final twist takes us beyond her psychosis and into the realm of Sixth Sense-type audience manipulation, but the twist is pointless because it has absolutely no narrative impact, and could even be seen as pandering to the ultra-demanding Twins fanbase, who may not enjoy watching their idols in such dark and disturbing cinema. Those that do enjoy such twisted stuff may be happy with what Diary delivers - that is, until the Pangs deliver their egregious screen credits midway through the film. Once "Directed by Oxide Pang" finally flashes on the screen, it's all downhill. (Kozo 2006)

 
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Universe Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various extras

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