Film: Re-cycle
Running time: 108 mins
Director: Oxide Pang Chun & Danny Pang
Starring: Angelica Lee, Cheang Pou-soi, Ekin Cheng, Lawrence Chou, Viraiwon Jauwseng
Genre: Fantasy/Horror/Mystery/Thriller
Country: Thailand/Hong Kong

Region 1 release.

The Pang Brothers (Danny Pang Fat and Oxide Pang Chun) have struggled in recent years to build on the success of their hit Asian horror film The Eye, which has spawned two inferior sequels, as well as a Hollywood remake. The pair made their directorial debut as a team with Bangkok Dangerous, but arguably their most imaginative and striking film is 2006’s effort Re-cycle.

Ting-Yin (Angelica Lee) is a young writer whose first novel has become the best seller in South East Asia. Her fans eagerly await her next book, entitled ‘The Re-cycle’, a story dealing with supernatural forces.

Battling against writer’s block and a tenacious publisher, her attempts to finish the book are further hindered by the re-emergence of an old flame hoping they can reignite their love for one another.

A conversation over dinner forces Ting-Yin to make an important decision about their future, but various weird incidents hamper the progress of her book. Is her jilted lover responsible for the silent phone calls and mysterious break-ins, or does blame bizarrely lay at the feet of her new heroine - fiction fearfully becoming fact?

The Pang Brothers have once again assembled a small but talented cast that manage to captivate with strong performances. Angelica Lee first worked with them in The Eye and earlier this year even married one of the twins, Oxide. Ting-Yu (Yaqi Zeng), the stranger in whom Ting-Yin all too readily invests her trust is particularly plausible, as is Lee’s character, even if, at times, their relationship isn’t.

The opening act, in which Ting-Yin is alone in her house struggling to write the novel, provides many of the more unnerving moments in the movie. Here, there are a couple of very suspenseful scenes (the bathroom and the corridor definite highlights), and one superbly timed leap-out-of-your-seat scare.

The Pangs know all the tricks, as time and time again the camera uncomfortably lingers on Lee’s face waiting for something to take us by surprise, which it inevitably does. In fact, the opening half hour has more tension than a lot of Hollywood’s scare-fests in their entirety. If you’re a fan of this kind of horror then its opening won’t fail to please. But by allowing the script to switch genres after the initial onslaught, some fans might be left a little disappointed in what is to come.

A masterfully nightmarish co-creation courtesy of the dark recesses of the Pang Brothers minds, Re-cycle suddenly shifts into the realms of fantasy. This shouldn’t have been a problem. Whilst there’s imagery here that will remain with you forever, the terror that could’ve been generated from such ghoulish creations in delightfully dismal locations for the most part vanishes. The playground of the damned ghosts’ bridge and the embryo tunnel succeed in sending minor shivers down the spine, but other levels, like the gravestones and the escape, are disappointingly underplayed. Even the forest of hang, with its falling dead bodies and long-necked zombies, somehow comes up short after an impressive introduction.

Don’t be put off, though – these are very minor complaints, after all. The slow, deliberate build-up may be confined to the wastepaper basket, but the claustrophobic location opens up to a fantastical world that demands your attention. The viewer is quickly sucked into the strangest of spheres along with the protagonist, hypnotized by its sudden transformation. So much so, the ghostly apparition who spooked so hauntingly in the first act, now stalking Ting-yin on her own terms, is forgiven for not quite making the grade. Sadly, she is revealed far too early and her character is fairly redundant, even in the final third, but the story has moved on and her character, cleverly, is just another condemned idea that litters this bleak new planet.

The idea that everything you thought about and didn’t do during your lifetime happens in this new world, along with stories, lovers and toys you long since resigned to the trash is such a huge premise you can’t help but think that Re-cycle deserves a longer journey. Jumping from one set piece to another as our heroine tries to escape, although rewarding, disappoints merely because the twist ending is actually quite a surprise - an emotional delight for sure. It’s certainly not in keeping with the story, but then, why not shift from horror to fantasy, back to horror, and then to the delicacies of past mistakes. It’s only a story, after all – the Pang Brothers have clearly decided to let others categorise it (as they did with The Eye). Regardless of its faults, along with a stirring score and luscious imagery, Re-cycle is high entertainment of epic proportions from end to end.

Minor niggles disappoint, but Re-cycle is still a minor classic that deserves a lot of respect. You will be scared. You will be blown away. You will be touched. When a film manages to deliver such transports of delight, it’s foolish to ignore such entertainment. DW

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