Directed by: Oxide Pang
Nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2007:
Having re-gained some faith in the Pang Brothers via Ab-Normal Beauty from 2004, that one represented Oxide and Danny directing separate, slightly interconnecting films (the other being the action-comedy Leave Me Alone, starring Ekin Cheng & Charlene Choi). What it showed in my eyes as they veered away from the supernatural was the talent of brother Oxide (and the little talent in brother Danny). Combining the lesser quality with the greater, the tally of Ab-Normal Beauty combined heart, atmosphere and dread so the encouragement going into 2006's Diary certainly got risen. Something you shouldn't do though. Everything's a clean slate although Diary is a return to the mouth of madness for a main character. This time being quite a sparse 3 man/woman piece, Oxide proves adept at portraying events that we don't know are certain reality but doesn't quite know when to pull back come ending time.
The cycle of feeling abandonment is already in full motion for Winnie (Charlene Choi). Suffering psychologically of the breakup from Seth (she receives support from Yvonne, played by Isabella Leong), she spots a doppelganger called Ray (Shawn Yue) and instead of moving on, she invites substitute Seth into her dark, gray life. Making puppets and writing a diary of her inner emotions, soon Ray senses Winnie isn't in the right state of mind and danger lurks...
Still the above plot synopsis isn't particularly correct as the point of Diary is that reality through the eyes of Winnie is possibly everything from askew to being a full on illusion. With Universe gleefully showcasing a shot of Shawn Yue tied up and Charlene Choi armed with a syringe on the dvd back cover, this signals the challenge to Oxide Pang to portray this journey from fragile psycho to potential full on mad woman. Perhaps. Oh the challenge is on but the prior statement is one of many maybe's in the film. But Oxide keeps us encouraged via a short running time and the mystery surrounding a frail mind is supported by strong visuals. Way too dark beyond intention on the dvd it seems (even sunny scenes are dark), the narrative button pushed in terms of Winnie's mind is that of her possibly having paranoid schizophrenia and the best moments come via the visualization of the many aspects of the diagnosis. Everything from illusion to dementia, the crew adding light, focus, sound and narrative supports a Charlene Choi that therefore comes off as sinking the teeth into the role very well. It's rarely about outbursts but fright and heartbreak as the awareness of changes in her happens. All due to heartbreak in itself but that's still not telling the whole picture.
Random, odd events and only sparse dips into intense visual style akin to the heavy assault Ab-Normal Beauty was, Diary may not have the riveting emotional effect but stays more leveled quality-wise throughout. That level contains Oxide Pang's skill in conveying character inner distress (and possible madness) and the mind obviously gets portrayed on-screen in intriguing fashion. Nothing and all may be the truth but when all is revealed, it takes an additional 10 minutes of expository scenes even though the dark twist is clear way earlier than that.
If it makes sense is not the question thankfully though as it's a muddled, jumbled about sense dealt with and certainly Diary scores a whole lot of points for us again to favour Oxide as the premium director of the twins. As undersigned has now gained an appreciation for Oxide's work, here's hoping he can continue to build on his quite well-honed skill in portraying the human psyche and having the trippy visuals to go along with it. Don't be ashamed if all the above only scores 80 minutes of running time.
The DVD (Universe):
Video: 1.82:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1.
Subtitles: English (in general a little weak grammatically but the translation is fully coherent), traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.
* Making Of (9 minutes, 4 seconds) following the usual format with quite the focus on Charlene Choi's acting.
* Gala Premiere (3 minutes, 30 seconds) contains the usual tacky ceremony main cast & crew involved have to get through, including talking to the overenthusiastic host of the event.
* Star's Files (Chinese language biographies and filmographies) for Oxide Pang, Charlene Choi, Shawn Yue and Isabella Leong, photo gallery (9 images) and the trailer. All video extras have the same subtitle options as the feature.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson