Re-Cycle (2006) / Horror-Fantasy
aka Gwai Wik

MPAA Rated: R for frightening and disturbing images
Running time: 108 min

Cast: Sinje Lee (Angelica Lee), Lawrence Chou, Zeng Yaqi, Lau Siu-Ming, Rain Li, Jettrin Wattanasin
Director: Pang Brothers (Danny and Oxide)

Screenplay: Cub Chin, Sam Lung, Danny Pang, Oxide Pang, Pak Sing Pang
Review published October 25, 2008

Lee (The Eye, Koma) stars as Tsui Ting-yin, a wildly popular author whose merest rumors of a new book in the works has the press abuzz with anticipation.  Her latest novel deals with the supernatural, and though she's never experienced what it is like to see a ghost, she would gladly welcome the life (or is that death?) experience.  Be careful what you wish for, as they say, as the writer soon begins to experience strange phenomena in her quiet apartment.  Creepy phone messages are left, startling images begin appearing in the corner of her eye, and long strands of hair are being discovered in the oddest of places.  Eventually, these disturbances become more and more manifest, and Ting-yin soon finds herself completely immersed in a new dimension of being unlike any she has ever known.  It's definitely not Heaven, more akin to Hell, where lifeless zombies roam to try to frighten her and very little makes sense.  Is this alternate dimension her new reality, or is it merely the fanciful images drawn up from an imaginative writer gone mad?

Re-Cycle is another semi-horror excursion by the Pang Brothers (The Eye 2, The Messengers), Danny and Oxide, who continue to deliver a smorgasbord of atmosphere and the expected jolts you're probably looking for in the Asian horror genre.  This time out, they are given a bigger budget for special effects, which they utilize to the fullest extent in crafting a truly remarkable visual display of a universe filled with awe-inspiring and terrifying images and sounds.  Amusement park attractions and giant toys litter the endless landscape, as our heroine traverse the surreal environs like Alice in a horrific version of Wonderland.  Bodies rain down from the sky, soulless creatures roam the land, and junkyards that appear with ceaseless amounts of litter.

Although delivered as a horror film, Re-Cycle is mostly a psychological thriller with scary elements, as Ting-yin tries to make sense of her surroundings.  Much of it feels very familiar, probably being due to her inner thoughts and repressed memories of her youth coming out and manifesting themselves in the world around her.  All of her fears and regrets come back to haunt her in the most unusual of ways, and it seems the only way out is to finally come face to face with certain conflicts she has had that remain without closure.  The second half of the film fares better than the first, primarily because it actually is far less derivative, though not much of anything is what one might call truly original.  The visuals alone are enough to raise these later scenes above standard horror-thriller fare.

I think that the film is difficult to recommend, as those who are viewing primarily for the horror elements will most likely grow bored as the amount of jols dissipate once the heroine enters into the alternate universe bizarre.  Meanwhile, moviegoers attracted to the film's metaphoric philosophy will probably not be impressed by the modern J-Horror formula, as the Pang brothers rely on the same gimmicky jump-scares every two minutes. It's not that these scares are unnecessary, but they confuse the thematic resonance by focusing too much on the next instance and not setting up the story enough prior to major events occurring.  Perhaps the group who will come away most pleased are those more open-minded horror viewers who like the fact that there is more substance in what could have been just another Asian horror throwaway, exploring such themes as repression, imagination, abandonment, and there is even a strong exploration into the pro-Life/pro-Choice debate.

While these themes, along with the very eerie special effects concepts, ultimately keep Re-Cycle from sinking to the bottom of the barrel of Asian horror, the movie as a whole only works in small segments rather than as a unified whole.  Moments of interest do emerge with each new environ traversed by Ting-yin, and when she begins to make some sense as to the crazy world around her.  However, not enough of these moments string together enough to deliver much momentum, as the Pangs revert back to their tendencies as horror maestros, making sure the audience gets their moments to jump in their seats, even if the story doesn't really call for it.  Not without some merit, but with so many elements borrowed from older, better films, the aptly titled Re-Cycle picks most of its ideas from the scrapheap of prior fantasy and horror features.

 Qwipster's rating:

©2008 Vince Leo