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Re-cycle

     

Angelica Lee enters the world of Re-cycle

Chinese: 鬼域
Year: 2006  
Director: Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang Fat
Cast: Angelica Lee Sum-Kit, Lau Siu-Ming, Zeng Qi Qi, Lawrence Chou Chun-Wai, Rain Li Choi-Wah, Jatarin Wattanasin
The Skinny: Possessing ace visuals, decent scares, and some clever concepts, Re-cycle helps redeem the Pang Brothers after the underwhelming Eye 10. Angelica Lee's performance is more than a match for her work in The Eye.
 
Review
by Kozo:

The Pang Brothers aren't dead, but after their most recent horror films one may be forgiven for thinking so. The Eye 2 felt somewhat light and The Eye 10 was a curious and even silly misfire. The twin brothers still displayed their ace ability to create cinema tension, but there seemed to be nothing beyond the cinematic anticipation. That trend looks to continue with Re-cycle, as the first half of the film seems to be a repeat of their celebrated tricks. The pulse-pounding soundtrack, slow-moving reveals, and tense buildup feel like The Eye redux, but thankfully the brothers pull something else out of their sleeve. The result may confound as many people as it intrigues, but at least this feels like a step in the right direction for the Pang Brothers. The presence of Angelica Lee only seals the deal.

Lee plays Tsui Ting-Yin, a popular author whose last three romantic novels have just been adapted into a new film. Her agent (Lawrence Chou in a small role) has already announced that her new book will be a supernatural thriller called "The Re-cycle". Sadly, Ting-Yin is stuck with her writing, and discards many of her ideas soon after she imagines them. At the same time, she has personal issues: a former love - and an inspiration for her successful romance novels - has resurfaced, but she shuts him out, choosing to bury herself in her work instead. But strange things begin occurring to Ting-Yin. She finds long strands of someone else's hair littered about her flat, she begins receiving odd static-filled phone calls, and she even spots a strange red-colored rift in the sky pulling debris into it. At a dinner with pal Rain Li, it's suggested that all these strange phenomena may simply be a product of Ting-Yin's overactive imagination, which is a reasonable idea given her current difficulties writing a horror novel.

Before long, the mysterious events begin to pile up - and then Alice travels through the looking glass. Ting-Yin crosses over into a mysterious fantasy world defined by lurid colors, desolate production design, and bodies falling from the skies. Multiple worlds lay before her - abandoned buildings with bottomless stairwells, color-drained hills beneath ashen-colored skies, corpse-filled forests stripped of green and yellow, a junkyard of oversized forgotten toys. Ting-Yin finds herself wandering from each desolate world to the next, each time being pursued by shadowy creatures and scads of blackened undead. How exactly did Ting-Yin end up in this place, and more importantly, how is she going to get out?

Re-cycle is fun for attentive filmgoers because of its heavy foreshadowing; every single detail given, from dialogue to visuals to whole scenes plays a purpose. This shows thought on the part of the Pang Brothers, which is a rarity for filmmakers currently working in Hong Kong. However, while the screenwriting is thoughtful, it also serves to make the film predictable. At a certain point, it becomes obvious what will happen to Ting-Yin simply because it's mentioned somewhere else first - and in case you forgot, the Pangs use flashbacks to remind you. The only time this doesn't occur is during a pivotal moment near the film's climax, which likely occurs because the Pang Brothers feared they would give away one of the film's biggest reveals. Nice try, but even that pivotal plot point is rather predictable. Re-cycle features some heady ideas, but it's laid out so efficiently that even the most supposedly surprising details can be easily guessed.

Still, the predictability doesn't detract from the overall ride, which is as involving as one would expect - and hope for - from the Pang Brothers. The first half of the film, which chronicles Ting-Yin's growing unease and initial foray into the other world, is vintage Pang Brothers. By now, the image of slow-moving portents of horror coupled with a thundering-drums soundtrack isn't really that scary, but it can still generate plenty of suspense. The Pangs change up their technique effectively too; slow buildups are alternated with pulse-quickening chase sequences, and the sudden shock scares are used sparingly. The other world is rendered with impressive detail, each new world possessing imagery that's alternately beautiful, immersive and horrible. Some of the details are sometimes so over the top that they may appear more funny than scary (the sheer fakery of the pursuing ghouls prevents them from being that frightening), but the atmosphere is more than enough to compensate. Once you get what's going on, Re-cycle can prove quite engrossing.

The film doesn't always click, though. The actual logic of Ting-Yin's brush with the supernatural is explained in an explicit fashion - and even then there are lingering questions. Once in the other world, Ting-Yin befriends a knowledgeable old man (Lau Siu-Ming), who gives her some pointers on making it to "The Transit", i.e. the place where she can return to her own world. At times the other world follows the logic laid out in the exposition, and at other times it starts to feel arbitrary. The Pang Brothers exercise their imagination in creating the other world, but sometimes it seems as if they're just using the screen as a canvas for whatever horrific images they can come up with. It's never clear who all the entities are that chase Ting-Yin, and after a while her journey becomes more plodding than organic. In getting to The Transit, Ting-Yin must cross a number of worlds with specific challenges. The multiple worlds sometimes provide interesting answers to Ting-Yin's questions, but at other times they seem to exist like levels in a video game - each coming complete with a "puzzle" that must be solved before Ting-Yin can move on. It's still involving, but also somewhat transparent in its manufactured action.

Still, there is a cause and effect behind Re-cycle, and the emotions created resonate effectively. Part of this is due to the film's themes, which manage more emotion than the past two Eye films did. Ting-Yin has a real connection to this other world, and though the facts are doled out in an unsurprising and even predictable manner, they seem very felt. Angelica Lee turns in a remarkable performance, made all the more impressive when you consider that for the majority of the film she's basically acting against nothing. For Lee, Re-cycle is basically one big reaction shot, and the actress is never less than convincing. At the same time, she brings weight to the film's more emotional scenes, and appears to give her character a tangible inner life. If Re-cycle succeeds at all, Lee is a very, very large reason why.

Re-cycle does end on a final moment that could leave many in the audience momentarily scratching their heads. The Pangs take great pains to lay down their logic and their rules, and they frequently do so in a way that seems to talk down to their audience. Ting-Yin's understanding is frequently complemented by flashbacks or quick exposition, such that the audience is basically spoon-fed everything throughout the course of the film. Throwing an extra twist out there at the end only serves to confuse things. Still, if one were to follow Re-cycle's logic to its bitter end, then the film's final moments do make sense. The whole may not feel that substantial, but the ending does give the film that final talking point that makes it much more discussion-worthy than the Pangs' past two efforts. And hey, in these quality-starved times, anything that gets people talking can't be all that bad. Re-cycle shows that The Pangs still have the ability to involve and excite as few filmmakers working in Hong Kong do anymore. And again, having Angelica Lee star seals the deal. (Kozo 2006)

 
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Universe Entertainment
2-Disc Set
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various extras
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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