Ab-Normal Beauty (2004)
Directed by: Oxide Pang
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Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2005:
Nomination at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2004:
Released tightly together with Danny Pang's pretty atrocious action-comedy Leave Me Alone (they were a tiny bit interconnected movies as well), only one Pang brother occupying the director's seat could for them be an interesting experience. Oxide stayed in darker places though (albeit non-supernatural ones), hiring the services of pop-duo 2R (Race Wong and Rosanne Wong) for his emotional study in the human psyche combined with his own reel of Saw. If you feel a sarcastic tone in that or a condescending one, you would probably be right as the end tally of Ab-Normal Beauty stinks and stinks of high class.
Jiney (Race Wong) studies art, focusing on painting and does photography in her spare time. Jas (Rosanne Wong) is a close friend who shares this interest but Jiney is starting to become obsessed with death. Obsessed with a last moment, a moment of death in photography and even at one point shoots tons of photographs of chickens being slaughtered. On her own with no parental figure present, the spiral is turning uncontrollable for Jiney which may put her life and sanity on the line...
The question of who is molding who, in terms of the pop star cast working with the director, is pretty quickly answered in Oxide Pang's favour as no karaoke-scenes or montages set to chart topping Canto-pop courtesy of 2R is present. No, Oxide is here to mold HIS story and to believe in his tools, some of which fail miserably while others add up to an atmospheric, sadistic, emotional core for Ab-Normal Beauty. But first and foremost being a look into the damaged mind of Jiney, the whole setup is almost too classical as there's evidence of a psycho in the making. And it's a chance Oxide and writer Pang Pak-Sing possibly took in order to toy with our expectations but it's way too slippery territory for these two to emerge alive out of. We're also suffering through flat acting by especially Rosanne Wong and Anson Leung (playing a fellow art student). Blending intense, jarring shots of the evocative kind that doesn't scream re-cycled tools but these tools when also employing poor, basic direction signals bad things overall for Oxide's intentions.
But he stays with it, getting our acceptance later on as he brings to life the true emotional being of Jiney. The first, familiar steps from being scared of fascination to riding the fascination is shown to be connected to a childhood trauma (shot in old time film flashback style... probably the worst stylistic excursion of Oxide's). And the unexpected, possibly disjointed trigger for her is correctly argued to make sense as the mind can't be mapped out that easy by anyone. As I said though, it will take the tug of the heartstrings to flesh out Pang's intentions and have us forget his crap steps getting to that point.
Rosanne Wong's Jas becomes equally important to Jiney (and the very apparent lesbian love is handled with grace) as will her strained relationship with an absent mother. Especially at this time of distress where she could've tried to hide her inner torment but having someone to bounce emotions off from is often times a good hindrance for a downwards spiral. The previous nil-factor to the psychological horror despite a pretty dynamite-looking package begins to score points on the board and we side by the fate of Jiney to get herself up thanks to her surroundings.
It's a a testament to the style-heavy Oxide that he knows to play tender moments at a suitable emotional volume combined with unexpected, stylistic playtime with his camera and while the surprise turn at the hour mark stretches credibility a bit too far, it's welcome in the sense because we start to remember that we're still in a pop duo vehicle! We're also on board to see if Oxide can play torture horror and character-director at the same time and truthfully, the quite superb strengths outweighs the really supreme weaknesses as the circle comes to a close with fine dedication by one of the Pang Brothers. Very special mention goes out to his lead actress Race Wong who is put through one hell of a ride and answers in a fine way the call to anchor the movie emotionally. Now we know which brother who managed to veer of course but stay afloat. I'd rather leave Danny alone then and follow Oxide wherever he goes.
The DVD (Tartan Video USA):
Video: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0.
Subtitles: English (well-worded and coherent but goes slightly out of synch during the last half hour) and Spanish.
* The Making Of Ab-Normal Beauty (10 minutes, 54 seconds). Program manages to include decent info from director Oxide Pang as he explains intentions for the film (including the technical ones), Race Wong talks of how she prepared for the film and fellow cast members notes how deep into her character she really plunged. Some interesting deleted footage involving Anson Leung also turns up along with the famed sound cue from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre!
* Deleted Scenes (7 clips, in total 7 minutes, 46 seconds) contains zero useful stuff unless you want extended interaction between Race and Rosanne in the dark room and a subsequent, light dance number. Thank god for scissors. The mentioned deleted footage of Anson Leung does not appear here unfortunately.
* The trailer, photo gallery (9 images), Tartan Asia Extreme New Releases (contains trailers for Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, Face, Spider Forest, Oldboy and H). All special features are subtitled in English.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson