Long term readers know that I am a huge fan of the works of the Pang Brothers, and have greatly enjoyed most of their work both as a team and individually post “The Eye”. For some, they have never lived up to the promise of their Asian Horror debut (and to some extent “Bangkok Dangerous”), but I have always found their films both visually and thematically interesting. This one however, is one of those which I have started watching on a number of occasions, but for many reasons, I have struggled to see much past the initial 20 minutes. However, as is usual in my build up to the New Year, I have taken it upon myself to actually clear out some of these half unwatched films, and “Re-Cycle” is the latest to get this treatment.
“Re-Cycle” is the story of Hong Kong Author Ting-yin (Angelica Lee), who is riding high on the success on a trilogy of Romance Novels, the most recent of which has been made into a Film. Interest in the background to these stories is high, but she is declining to comment on the man who inspired her – not surprisingly as it turns out she has had a long affair with a Married Man. They have since split, but he returns onto the scene, recently divorced, wishing to start afresh. Ting-yin wants nothing to do with this, instead desiring to start work on a new novel, in a new genre, a Ghost Story called “Re-Cycle”. The creative process is tough on her, as she is struggling to even get started, despite the encouragement of her literary agent. When she does start to knuckle down, she is affected by odd goings on, strange phone calls, mysterious long hair in her basin, and animated garbage start to invade into her solitary life. Even stranger, is when she suddenly finds herself in a strange alternate world, a decaying one full of all the things that have been abandoned – from ideas, to children’s toys, to amusement parks, to the unremembered dead and a room of foetuses. Can Ting-yin unravel the mystery of what is going on, why she is here and most importantly, get back to reality before she decays along with the rest of this decaying parallel universe?
I can see how this one really divides the audience. By pairing up with her partner Oxide and his brother yet again, many must have been expecting something on the level of “The Eye”. And for the opening 25 minutes or so, we get very much that, a classic Hong Kong Ghost story. Except, although it is full of atmosphere and shocks, it does really feel like we have been here, done this. Then suddenly it gets interesting, and really shifts gears. Suddenly we are in this strange, decaying CGI world, at once visually stunning and full of thought provoking imagery. It is no longer a horror film, but now far more a fantasy, albeit with some classic horror tropes.
Lee really is one of the best actresses at mixing the strong female role who harbours a great sense of heartbreak – she is far more than a helpless scream queen. The film lives or dies on her performance, as so few other characters really get a chance to shine, but she is as watchable as ever.
The film structurally has an issue – it is almost too much like a computer game – she meets odd events, and works out (sometimes with the help of a mysterious Old man and a young girl) how to get through each hurdle, moving onto to the next stage in her quest. It therefore feels that the film is almost like an amusement park ride, we are on rails working towards the eventual conclusions, with nothing else to help fill the story, or provide resonance with the real world. When the real truth of the story is revealed, I am afraid it is just too obvious to have ever been a mystery, although it still packs a real emotional punch – especially when her loss is accepted only to be taken away.
My overwhelming emotion with regards to the film is that I just wish there was more. I wish we had more time to look at the things which had been abandoned, to understand Ting-yin’s life a little more. Despite the bold imagery, some of the ideas seem a little undercooked – whilst one character in her alternate world makes perfect sense, the second reveal seems to come from nowhere. Moreover, there is a final scene shock which is probably enough for another film to be made out of, but we are left utterly unfulfilled about where it is going.
Saying all this, I really enjoyed the film, not just on a purely visceral level. It is certainly one of those films I would consider getting a Region A Blu-Ray player to see, but there is also enough in terms of the themes of loss and abandonment to make it worthy of multiple views. It is probably the fact that there are so many wonderful yet unexplored ideas and images that make me a little disappointed in the end – another 10 minutes of running time, a little pruning and some more dialogue would have raise this one up a notch, but it still remains Recommended!