Being Film #7 in Hail Horror 2008
In a weird, unsuccessful way the Pang Brothers are kind of hot in Hollywood right now. Having made a name for themselves in Asia with films like THE EYE and BANGKOK DANGEROUS, they made their US directing debut with the poorly received THE MESSENGERS, which tried to mix elements of the traditional "J-Horror" with a more Midwestern, American vibe. Both THE EYE and, more recently, BANGKOK DANGEROUS, have been given Hollywood makeovers, with the latter being adapted by the brothers themselves.
Surprise: the films tanked, and yet we still get a Region 1 release of their 2006 horror/fantasy film RE-CYCLE. Reuniting them with their EYE star Angelica Lee, I saw some incredible stills a few years ago but despaired of it ever coming around this neck of the woods. Although guilty of a few abrupt shifts in tone and editing, and some obvious CGI, RE-CYCLE turns out to be an interesting mix of ideas, taking the ghostly scares from horror and borrowing heavily from fantasy fare like THE WIZARD OF OZ and THE NEVERENDING STORY, layering fantastical images one upon the other.
Lee plays Ting-yin, a successful novelist whose new book, Re-Cycle, is a supernatural departure from her usual love stories. She begins to concoct her tale: a young woman with long hair being haunted, but writer's block and personal complications cause her to throw away her notes in frustration. Soon after she begins to notice strange things in her apartment: long strands of hair left on the counter, and movement out of the corner of her eye. The Pang Brothers shoot everything with an alarming clarity, often using extreme close-ups of everyday objects to emphasize the tension in the scene. They do well with the ghostly images as well: in one tense scene Ting-yin puts her head down to listen to odd noises emanating from her answering machine. When she picks her head back up, a blurry ghost head pick up its head a second later.
She later meets with an old lover who abandoned her years ago for another woman he got pregnant. Upset at the encounter and still freaked out over the disturbances in her apartment Ting-yin becomes lost, transported to a nightmarish world where everything deserted and abandoned winds up, and is being pursued by the remnants of the very character she tossed aside in the trash.
There are plenty of scare of the "jump" variety in RE-CYCLE, but the real fun comes in the Gilliam-esque (not really a word, but you know what I mean) images and scenery the Pang Brothers create. Seemingly right out of films like BARON MUNCHAUSIN and BRAZIL, we're treated to a basement straight of some urban version of Dante's Inferno, where evil things stutter and scream in darkened spaces, a building constructed entirely of books, a land of broken toys, and a decrepit amusement park impossibly situated between two apartment buildings:
An old man and a young girl aid her in her quest to return to the real world, and to tell you who these people are would be to spoil a large part of the movie. There's also a very disturbing section of the film where a significant abandonment issue is addressed, and we see that the implications of this episode have consequences that color the rest of the movie. Upon RE-CYCLE's release there was a lot of controversy around the film, many saying it was a thinly-veiled jab at abortion rights. But I think that's giving the film more of a reach than was intended - it feels much more like a narrative ploy to tie everything together into an obligatory "shock" ending. Which works, even if it's constructed out of ideas and images that are best taken as the stuff of dream and night terror rather than any tangible sense of reality.
From a purely visual perspective I enjoyed RE-CYCLE. There were more than couple nice scares (again, it was the "loud noise and jump" variety but that's okay) and there's plenty of eye-candy on display - Color and its conspicuous absence are used masterfully throughout the movie and everyone does a fine acting job. If you enjoy your horror or fantasy with a healthy dose of the industrial, give RE-CYCLE a try. There's more than enough there to keep you entertained.