Sunday 10 August 2008

Ab-Normal Beauty (2004)

Jiney, in the hands of Race Wong, is a talented but unsatisfied arts student. As she tellingly explains to a fellow student, just because she wins awards with hr photographs doesn't mean she's necessarily satisfied with the results. She witnesses a fatal car accident but while she's initially shocked and horrified, she finds herself drawn to photograph the victim. From then on she finds herself seeing a darker side to the art she creates, which makes for disturbing viewing, not just for us but for the characters in the story.

First it's just painting a line of blood delicately wending its way down a nude model, then its paying a street vendor to butcher chickens for her camera. Soon she's photographing every dead animal she can find and she's seeing the photos in her dark room literally drip blood. Vegetarians would not find this comfortable viewing, that's for sure! She develops a death obsession, only partially because of the similarities between photography and death. It doesn't take long for her to dance around on the wrong side of the rail ten floors up screaming into the night. Her girlfriend Jas, bizarrely played by Race Wong's real life sister Rosanne, is understandably upset about the whole thing.

As always, Oxide Pang provides a visually powerful film. Through the eyes of his character, he demonstrates how good a photographer he would be. He has a highly astute sense for composition of frame, something that seems to be apparent both in still and moving pictures. However there's still quite a bit of the stylised jerkiness that he seems so fond of and which I'm enjoying less and less with each of his films. As always though, the concept of movement is well addressed. I have no conception what cultural phenomenon makes Asian cinema able to treat movement with such consistent innovation, when nobody else sems to have a clue.

Especially after dealing with a fellow student who has a serious crush on her, Jiney gradually realises how far she's getting to the edge and so, with the help ofJas, pulls way back. But if you think everything's suddenly going to be sunlight and roses then you haven't seen much extreme Asian cinema. Next thing she knows she's receiving photos and video footage of what appears to be a deliberate murder for art, and the only person who might conceivably know enough and care enough to want to fake a snuff film to impress her doesn't seem to be responsible.

The final scenes are violent and relentless, but they seemed ineffective to me, certainly when compared to the initial ride that Jiney took herself through. I felt that Oxide Pang handled that buildup superbly, full of psychological depth and symbolism. So much had to do with the detachment of being behind a camera, so much had to do with keeping that detachment intact. Yet the real wake up call felt like a tacked on Hollywood serial killer story. We can understand the motivations but really don't care and the accoutrements seem artificial. The very end is disappointing too. Watch this for the visuals and the psychology of the first hour, but not if you're a vegetarian...

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