Astonishing (2004)

Directed by: Herman Yau
Written by: Herman Yau & Albert Lai
Producer: Lextsai
Starring: Christy Chung, Alex Fong, Sasha Hou, William So, Wayne Lai & Sammo Hung

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Mandy (Christy Chung) lives the rich life with husband and mice researcher Kenny (Alex Fong). At a classmate reunion party that also celebrates Mandy and Kenny's anniversary, she falls asleep but catches the glimpse of someone with a disturbing cane that she's witnessed before. Driving home after the party, the couple get into the middle of a car accident but its conclusion is interrupted by Mandy waking up in bed, 10 days later. As she starts her day, her surroundings seems to not acknowledge her as Mandy but as research assistant Fiona instead. Some kind of switcharoo has happened, much due to a hypnotic dvd featuring the man with a cane...

Always giving Herman Yau the benefit of the doubt as he attempts so much in short amounts of time, Astonishing is therefore an interesting exploration of surreal reality for one character but an exploration that was only good when at the synopsis stage! Yau logs a clear effort, despite the intricacies of it all but loses viewer interest early as he uses his biggest hammers and nails early too. But they would've been needed throughout.

Astonishing is perhaps a testament to the fact that Yau can't make complicated mysteries quickly because most of the feel surrounding the film is of the shot in 10-15 days kind. Certainly an old school feel resides early on where Yau unashamedly shoots some minor animal cruelty to set up the as of yet undisclosed research that is a key to the film. With a female character in an epic world, living an epic life only to crumble on the inside and outside, the concept we're on board on and as reality seems to drift away, Yau employs horror techniques that do arise interest to at least watch on. We do watch on and we do watch the film fall apart into silly little embarrassing pieces.

It's not a film where you need to be highly tuned and look for visual clues (although a hint to you all, the design of the chairs at a party scene is one) because the biggest compliment is that Yau doesn't exactly go surreal on us on a narrative level. We're there as Christy Chung's sinks her teeth in the role and sinks into madness as no one recognizes her. Mind goes and as part of the mice research conducted, notions about inserting something in a foreign environment are hinted at. Which again is an idea many could back up. Whether or not we're going into David Lynch or David Cronenberg territory remains to be seen but what we're seeing is a template that can't sustain pressure on the interest part of our brains for one reel even. No excitement, no horror and while a rule of logic destined to not be logical is acceptable as well as the effect on Mandy that has her crawl into a fetus position at one point, we can't accept not feeling it, nor gasping.

Yau's visuals are clean and dependable but he strikes such a wrong chord in the direction of actress Christy Chung that has to struggle with the clichés of a character not finding anyone to confide in and going hysterical in the process. It's familiarity as a torture device for us and the further we zero in on the truth, the closer we get to the reaction of "Huh, that was it?". Add dodgy CGI for the final reel and a completely illogical conclusion not worthy of being mentioned alongside masters of unashamed weird behavior (Lynch again). Yes, I am going to use the obvious pun for the flick so that Herman Yau hopefully tunes his senses better next time or never again....wait for it...ASTONISINGLY BAD!

The DVD:

Tai Seng has repackaged Mei Ah's Hong Kong release for distribution in America. The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. The film itself looks a bit dull but print damage is kept low while sharpness and colour ranks as acceptable.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track comes to life sporadically but keeps itself centered otherwise. Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 selections are also available.

The English subtitles word the occasional sentence in the quite odd way but fair coherence is in place nonetheless. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Extras come in the form of trailers for Astonishing, Love Battlefield and Jiang Hu plus the crappy Mei Ah Databank makes yet another appearance.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson