Slim Till Dead (2005)

Directed by: Marco Mak
Produced & written by: Wong Jing
Starring: Anthony Wong, Sharon Tong, Cherrie Ying, Raymond Wong, Crystal Tin, Zuki Lee, Jing Gang-Shan, Wu Qing-Zhe & Wong Jing

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Young models are being abducted and killed off by in various gruesome ways, reducing their weight to 70 pounds in the process. Troubled inspector Tak (Anthony Wong) is on the case and is trying to piece it together, with his former criminal psychologist, now home wife Ling (Sharon Tong) following him around. Despite also a Mainland paparazzi reporter (Wu Qing-Zhe) also tagging along as he knows creep Ken (Jing Gang-Shan) is connected to the girls, the victims start piling up and next might be fashion consultant Cherrie (Cherrie Ying)...

Teaming up again after the surprisingly adequate Colour of The Truth, this time Marco Mak takes sole directing reigns with Wong Jing steering the boat from the writer- and producing chair. The result is Slim Till Dead, a nice literal title for the crowd that needs to decide on a buy or a rental fast. As flawed and uneven as the movie is, it is equally important to point out the positives that add up to this passable thriller.

So what is Wong Jing trying to do here? Hong Kong's answer to Se7en and The Silence Of The Lambs? More like a 3rd generation xerox if you ask me. Is it all an excuse to have beautiful, young Hong Kong women strut around in skimpy outfits and bathing suits? Probably but you would be surprised how little exploitation goes on here. Finally, is Marco Mak going to take the next step up to something beyond other than decent? Sadly, Mak seems stuck in a rut but as seen proven prior, it isn't necessarily the worst thing you'll encounter.

You'all know Wong Jing, for better or worse, and with Colour of The Truth, despite some fine writing, he just couldn't stay away from goofy or comedic elements and no different with Slim Till Dead. While the subject matter surrounding the obsession with ideal weight according to social rules of today versus the humour isn't as contrasting as in Wong's Raped By An Angel series, he ever so slightly goes too far with his "comedic" aspects. It actually isn't that broad (Chapman To is thankfully absent) and mostly confined to the interaction between Anthony Wong and Sharon Tang's characters but it gets awfully loudmouthed and juvenile when the same joke (i.e. she won't have sex with him) goes on repeat. This is basically the worst crime of Wong's in the film and in a weird, self degrading touch through his minor role as Tak's superior William Hung (a reference to the talent less American Idol cult figure who also soiled Hong Kong cinema with his presence through Where is Mama's Boy?), Wong seems to poke fun at the fact that he's a hack, trying to quickly cash in. Let's all agree. So moving on to the thriller part of Slim Till Dead, much flows as expected.

Wong Jing hands Marco Mak no originality to work with and echoing classic imagery from Se7en (rain) and The Silence Of The Lambs (objects lodged in victim's mouths) only solidifies the recycled elements that Wong has peppered his script with. One should expect that this is about as best as we see him do, even though Colour of The Truth had unexpected amounts of character written into it, but Slim Till Dead represents nothing more than a quick thrill fix for Wong Jing and his audience (not a whole lot of box-office returns came with this one though). Effort is secondary but where the actual effort lies is in Anthony's and Sharon's characters. Through performances, this becomes an amusing, mostly bearable double act that also brings out a worthwhile serious aura as tragedy may tear them apart. Anthony and Sharon also has an easy going, genuine chemistry that despite working with most familiar plot devices in the book, becomes a memorable section of Slim Till Dead alongside Marco Mak's visual style. Most of the remaining character gallery are types, cardboard cut outs and frankly a waste of celluloid but you wouldn't have a feature without some puppets thrown in, including the young cop character Raymond Wong plays. He wasn't memorable as a lead in Colour of The Truth and is still not progressing either. Thankfully, he's relegated mostly to support here as per his early days in Johnnie To's movies at Milkyway.

Looking at Marco Mak's directing, he takes the bad parts of Wong's script and spices it up as best he can with quick cut visuals while correctly calming down for the character moments that work on paper. The former choice does seem like a lazy filmmaking choice doesn't it but Mak once again showcases his skill for involving through weird cinematography choices, distorted visuals and audio. As Slim Till Dead progresses, Mak amps tension through all this nicely and it importantly becomes a driving force for this diversion to end up as passable.

It's once again much thanks to Anthony Wong's presence that 90 minutes doesn't feel like the double amount. Almost always amusing when in goofball mode, Wong brings Tak's familiar arc to acceptable acting grounds. You know that his dark past surrounding an accidental shooting is going to come back to haunt him in a final mental showdown but Wong makes very much good use of the material through his experience. It even becomes rather touching when this past event is featured and when the movie later kicks into high melodrama for a moment, it's again a testament to Wong's skills that the audience tears up as well. His co-star Sharon Tang is a revelation also, displaying strong feminine strength and smartness (a first for a Wong Jing film?) all up till the end confrontation with the killer though. Sad.

Cherrie Ying gets no chance to build much on the decently favorably impression she made in Throw Down. While she isn't memorable, the way Mak infuses her into some of the more wilder visual compositions is engaging and I guess that requires a small amount from the acting side as well. Crystal Tin is also one of the few to register favorably outside of the stars as a model doing Muay Thai but when captured, she displays eerie character acting. A model stuck way into her world and even more disturbingly so when faced with death. She is also the object of a parody of Fruit Chan's Dumplings.

Slim Till Dead sees Marco Mak still running back and forth on the decent track of filmmaking. With Wong Jing's unusually competent script (meaning wildly uneven), he logs a fairly memorable visual ride with only hints at grisly exploitation considering the plot. "Borrowing" heavily from known serial killer thrillers, that is something creator Wong Jing very much knows and Slim Till Dead won't restore people's of faith in Hong Kong cinema either. When the final product reaches passable however, that grade deserves to be highlighted.

The DVD:

Mei Ah presents the film in a 1.78:1 framed anamorphically enhanced transfer. Little damage is evident in this dark film and Mei Ah provides a transfer that is sharp and detailed at all times.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track is very active with effective front channel separation mostly but the rears get a decent workout as well. Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also included.

The English subtitles has a few sentences with ropey grammar but comes off well otherwise. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Extras include the trailer for Slim Till Dead as well as previews for It Had To be You and the upcoming Wong Jing/Billy Chung helmed Colour Of The Loyalty. Mei Ah's Databank contains the usual nothing (cast & crew listing and the plot synopsis).

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson