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  Publicity Stills of "Recycle"
(Courtesy from Shaw)

Genre: Horror
Director: Pang Brothers
Starring: Lee Sinje, Lawrence Chow
Running Time: 1 hr 49 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: PG (Some Disturbing Scenes)

Opening Day: 6 July 2006


Ting-yin’s (starring LEE Sinje) debut novel has become the bestseller in South East Asia. Her novel is a love story that touches the hearts of all her readers.

Ting-yin wrote with her pen-name of Chu Xun. News of her next project,“The Recycle”, a novel that evolves around supernatural forces are announced to her readers during her autograph party by her manager, Lawrence (starring Lawrence CHOW). Her readers eagerly await the release of her new book with high expectations of her fictional work to be true to life…

Ting-yin starts to work on the Recycle. After drafting a chapter, she stops. She deletes the file which contains the draft from her computer… Later, she begins to see things, including a woman who appears repeatedly at certain places. Some of the phenomenon cannot be explained. Ting-yin feels that the supernatural events depicted in her fictional work begin to unfold in the real world!

The most horrible thing is the mysterious woman who comes and goes is actually the heroine of her new book who has come out of the fictional world into the real world. Ting-yin finds it increasingly hard to tell what is real and what is imaginary...

But she soon learns that perhaps she should follow the mysterious woman into the other world. Isn’t it exactly the subject matter that she’s working on in the Recycle? By having the experience herself, wouldn’t it be the best way to learn of the inexplicable?

One night, Ting-yin decides to follow the woman into the other world… in which she has the experience of real and pure horror!

Movie Review:

There is a universal truth about any film involving the Pang Brothers. It will have a cool and excitingly unconventional premise that will always find its detractors. Re-cycle will probably find its fair share of them as well. It has been billed as a meta-horror film that builds on the different realms of existence and the crossing of those barriers.

But that’s not to say Re-cycle is particularly bad, but that it was a missed opportunity for the Pang Brothers to redefine the genre yet again given its weak script. They previously worked together on the critically lauded The Eye series and Bangkok Dangerous, which elevated them to fame among horror enthusiasts and showed off their immense talents to an awe-struck audience. With an eye (hehe) for horror, they garnered fans from across Asia and the West, each eagerly awaiting their next horror collaboration. As the Pang brothers are genre-centric filmmakers, you can always be assured of spine-chilling experiences. Re-cycle is no exception.

Just as Alice climbed down through the rabbit hole and found a whole new plane of subsistence, Ting-yin (Lee Sinje), a best-selling romance novelist finds a portal to a different dimension where both worlds collide and puts her face to face with her worst fears. She enters a strange new realm that both fascinates and frightens her. Guided by a small girl, she traverses through the lands various obstacles to reach the Transit, the way home. It could have very well been influenced by Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 animation, Spirited Away. Sharing many themes and incredibly similar elements of fantasy and horror, you wouldn’t be wrong in calling Re-cycle the deliciously macabre live-action version of that film.

There’s so much to be said about the brave new world that the Pangs painstakingly created. It’s a creative composite of terrifying imagery and atmospheric sounds and is nothing short of a technical marvel for the horror auteurs. Aesthetically ambitious and furiously imaginative, it’s a visual treat that should send audiences’ imaginations soaring. The incredible set design is fashioned in a surrealistic nightmare world that is reminiscent of The Cell, the Jennifer Lopez vehicle in which she delves into the mind of a serial killer and Mortal Kombat, the movie based on the popular videogame of the same name. Featuring Hong Kong’s uniquely memorable tenement buildings and plateaus of tombstones with the rising dead, its most intensely morbid setting was the hall of fetuses – just gutsy by the Pangs.

At this point in the film, the blurring lines between reality and imagination have become moot. Ting-yin’s sole objective is to find the way home as she ascends on a roller-coaster ride through the many vicissitudes of horror, discovering how personal this veritable “Ghost Island” actually is to her. The film finds a firmer footing as soon as she sets upon her journey home, technically at least. Like a crescendo that reached its peak, it quickly abates into an uneven finish. Often there’s just no real structure or meaning to the ocular extravaganza that unfolds on screen. It even meanders from horror to a fantasy-adventure film at certain intervals that just seems dreadfully out of place and over-wrought in a world with unbridled savagery.

There is a fine line between attempting shock horror and inciting psychological horror, which was effectively straddled with aplomb by the directors especially in the film’s opening act. It rambles slowly through the halfway mark but still brings out the creep factor in later scenes. Unlike their previous films, the building of nail-biting tension and creepy suspense did not play as big a part in this film. The first half of the film is quintessential Pang, with an expert use of lighting and shadows coupled with exquisite framework as well as a tremendous soundtrack that suitably augments the eerie mood.

However despite the fact that the Pangs are pioneers in the resurgence of Asian horror, some of the scare tactics used and visual plot devices (cue the long haired ghouls and flooded toilets) are decidedly dated compared to their contemporaries in other Asian markets. Even while unfocused, the film manages to craft an underlying philosophy of distinctly human issues like abandonment and the importance of preservation of tradition and memories, in the hopes of affording the film some semblance of gravitas.

Although it’s a festival for the senses, there seems to be a significantly absent portion of what would have made this a great film. While a largely visceral experience, it lacks key points that guide audiences to an ultimately enriching narrative and unhinged character development. The buildup to the “land of the dead” as it were, is the only part of the film that holds any appearance to an actual screenplay. It has to be noted that Lee Sinje does hold her own against an unfairly weak characterisation of Ting-yin. She exudes unrestrained terror to resolute determination with ease and a refreshing temerity.

The film’s technical aspects are a tour-de-force. Sheer artistry. A genuine distinction for Asian horror. Instinctual and retching, Re-cycle has virtually zero gore. It’s a brave style undertaken by the brothers at the helm. With incredibly innovative conceptual art direction coupled with fantastic cinematography, you could find yourself overlooking some of its flaws and just enjoying the ride.

Movie Rating:

(If horror movies are like games of chess between the director and one’s constitution, the Pang Brothers are the Garry Kasporovs of the genre)

Review by Justin Deimen


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