Tuesday 21 July 2009

Re-Cycle (2006)

Directors: The Pang Brothers (Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang)
Star: Angelica Lee

In 2002, Malaysian born actress Angelica Lee starred in The Eye, my favourite Pang Brothers film thus far. I've seen quite a few now, both solo Oxide Pang films made in Thailand and Hong Kong collaborations between the pair who strangely take turns on set rather than sharing it. Most of them came to me courtesy of Sundance Channel's Extreme Asia series, though bizarrely not the one that they've just remade in the States, Bangkok Dangerous. This one was Lee's return to working with the Pangs as she didn't appear in the sequels to The Eye.

Lee plays Tsui Ting-Yin, who as Chu Xun has written three bestselling volumes of a romance series called My Love in three years, one of which has been turned into the Melancholy Romance Film of the Year. At the press conference we learn three critical things. Firstly, she writes primarily from experience, so Yong Lin, the female lead, is effectively her. Secondly, she won't let on who the male lead, Guo Rong by name, is, but she says that he no longer exists. Lastly, and most importantly, she's pissed off with her agent, bizarrely named Abby even though he's male, for announcing her new book before she's even written it.

It's a supernatural story called Recycle. Well, The Recycle say the subtitles, but they're a litle flaky, with lines like 'Could you please not leaving me behind again?' At least it will be, when she writes it, and as she starts to do so things almost immediately take a turn for the weird. She invents Fang Yu-ling, a strange looking, too tall female lead with very long hair, and next thing she walks into the kitchen and finds in her sink... you guessed it, a very long hair. She starts seeing figures in her house, the bath runs itself, she gets strange phone calls, and of course those very long hairs keep turning up. Suddenly the inspiration is palpably all around her, ready for her to write down on the page.

Now, we have no idea what's causing any of this. It could be her imagination starting to kick in after her initial writer's block; it could be her persistent ex-boyfriend who was presumably the inspiration for Guo Rong and who has now got a divorce; or it could be a well meaning fan trying to help her out. After all she did say at her press conference that she wanted to be scared so that she could write better material out of having experienced fear. We even wonder if this is some really strange take on ghost writing, where the ghosts really are doing the writing. And really it easily be any of these things, but then the frights get freakier and we leave reality behind.

She leaves a restaurant only to experience a strange sucking force that pulls her forwards, only to see a red light in the sky blink in disappear, taking the force with it. She pulls her discarded attempts out of the waste paper basket, discovering that they're pointing to a corridor in her apartment block, so she takes the lift down to there only to find an old woman and a girl descending through the floor of the lift. She exits the building into a post apocalyptic city that is very empty until bodies start raining from the sky and ghosts start floating after her.

And these scenes are wonderful because they really are the stuff of nightmare, not just because there are frights here but because it's surreal and bizarre and follows its own scary logic. She ends up in a broken down carnival talking to a man who gives her pages from her own book. It would seem that she's tapped into a place to which the abandoned things go to live on quietly until creators bring them back to life. This is the process of recycling and it's what wipes things out of the world of the forgotten.

It's a dangerous Neverending Story sort of place where things erode and may just take you with them, a live action Miyazaki anime with its little heroine to help guide her to the Transit, a Lord of the Rings world where every turn of the quest is in a different style of landscape, a fairy tale land where people have to follow bizarre rules or else. There are so many fantasy worlds built into this it's hard to keep track of them all, appropriately of course for a story about recycling ideas: a little Silverlock here, a lot of Labyrinth there. Some I don't recognise at all, like the communal womb of aborted foetuses, but put together they're a real trip. And we wonder why we had half an hour of story before we started tripping.

When it comes down to it this is a story about creation and it's a fascinating one, though I'm not sure how we can answer the questions it seems to be asking us. Writers have to create and abandon material all the time and they can't be sentimental about it; however what doesn't fit in one place may be abandoned only to be brought back to life somewhere else. In the end this seems to get caught up a little too much in precisely what it's talking about. How much of this should have been abandoned and how much of what the writers threw away is languishing somewhere waiting for someone to reuse it. Then again how much we can trust an eastern film about creation when it perpetuates the western myth that anyone who writes anything has to use an Apple Mac.

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