Re-Cycle: Another Pang Brothers Horror Would-be Hit

Here sits one lone reviewer, looking over his shoulder for fear of boredom, staving off the desire to behold more than what has come before. Alas, much like the protagonist of many a pseudo-horror film, he too must come to terms with the mediocrity of it all. The shadows do contain boredom, although fortunately it really packs no more punch than any lame, spooky thing a small effects budget will buy you.

Flogging more life out of the dead horse that is HK’s horror genre has turned into quite the art over time, with Danny and Oxide Pang likely most apt among perpetrators. These two helped much in establishing and maturing the trend four years ago with The Eye, and have now come back to haunt us with their most expensive project to date. Admittedly, Re-Cycle does almost nothing to alleviate creative woes associated with the horror theme, but at least brings to the fore the most well-crafted visuals in current Asian cinema, as does it go about its business honestly. After all, for something rehashing many previously used elements, Re-Cycle’s a fitting title.

And honesty counts here, the Pangs doing their best to make you realize this isn’t some trailblazing literary exercise. Starting with scene one, a slew of familiar ingredients march onwards, from sudden sound effects and frazzled images, to pale women with long, sticky hair. And just as the movie’s look and feel are derived from releases a-priori, so does is its main cast member.

Oddly credited as the Korean-sounding Lee Sinje, Angelica Lee’s back in a role not too dissimilar from the memorable part she contributed in The Eye. Then again, Lee’s sad, dejected stare and unfocused eyes lend themselves well to the type of performance required here, a fact Re-Cycle uses in one entertaining gag.

In her most generic and practically absent part to date, Lee plays as Tsui Ting Yin, a successful writer famous for romantic authoring, who undertakes an about-face by switching to supernatural suspense. The first part of the film, lasting all of fifteen minutes, introduces Tsui briefly, revealing some of her past, like a failed relationship and being pushed into things by other people’s greed.

Soon after sitting down to put together a novel to challenge the Kings and Koontz’s of the world, Tsui begins noticing bizarre occurrences in her unrealistically cool pad: stuff that’s not supposed to be there, a feeling of being watched, and even clues to characters in her stories materialize. The paranormal assault intensifies until a climactic collapse from which Tsui eventually emerges, albeit in a Dante-esque descent into hell, leading to a nether-realm full of insane irregularities and constant danger.

That’s what qualifies Re-Cycle as something you should put on your watch list, for the lengthy alter-reality sequence as shown is by far the most impressive, gorgeous bit of innovative imagery to come out of a Hong Kong film studio yet, teasing perceptions and putting viewers on edge in anticipation of the next wave. Lasting the lion’s share of the movie, Tsui’s journey across a surreal nightmare-scape encompasses distinct stages, each carefully done and perhaps containing easter eggs for the patient to unlock.

There’s quite a lot of borrowing from previous zombie and fantasy numbers, but it’s hard to say how much is inspired by other works versus genuine Pang imagination. Nor does it matter, the end result is tantalizing enough, at its best moments truly awe-inspiring and emotive, standing up there with the cream of indie imagery.

In particular, one segment has Tsui step out of her normal life via an elevator slap bang into a post-apocalyptic city environment, where traversing hell begins in earnest. For mood, graphics and direction, this scene deserves special mention, ensuring Re-Cycle has enough oomph injected into its hulk: it’s one of those bits you can just watch and watch time and again.

But there’s more to keep in mind, the lone reviewer continues hacking away at his keyboard, glancing towards the waning light. Boredom has arrived, for once the effects and breathtaking vistas fade, Re-Cycle stands bare as a string of also-seen standards with an obvious outcome hardly obscured by a double-twist close to the end.
There’s also quite some repetition, with several of the picture’s stand-ins making one appearance too many, notably the undead souls roaming Tsui’s wasteland, chasing her around futilely well after some unlikely animal flies home.

Ultimately, Re-Cycle reaches a foregone conclusion you’d have been able pinpoint from way across the river Styx, boatman or not. Speaking of boat people, this is one case where despite inescapable generic languor multiple watchings are probably not a bad idea. It’s possible Re-Cycle’s got more going for it than skin-deep apparent, and as such, the rating received adds a star for future potential, although having said that, do not expect the world. Most of what’s in store you’ve seen in different places before, amounting to tried and tested references and allusions to relevant mysticism, philosophy and theology. Still, letting the Pangs do their thing can’t hurt, so if inclined, devote the time and you may find yourself rewarded.

As a one-shot deal, Re-Cycle enjoys a massive array of beautiful visuals, culminating in the most splendiferous looks anyone’s seen out of a HK flick. Otherwise it’s very much the rehashing of old ideas that’s in store, but thanks to typically effective Pang direction and supervision, a cut above the rest of the generics out there, with even the cheapest of tricks working better than average. The resultant composition, although far from Independent Spirit material, indeed does field real scares and frights. Having bona fide horror helps in something selling as a horror product, but of more value would have been the spark to advance strong cosmetics into the next level of creative prowess.

Rating: * * * 1/2

Directed by Pang Brothers
Starring Angelica Lee, Lawrence Chou, Rain Li, Lau Siu-Ming
2006, Cantonese, 110 minutes

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