Abnormal Beauty [Import]
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In Abnormal Beauty, Jiney, a photography student, stumbles across a horrible car accident. After shooting the grisly scene, she becomes obsessed with photographing death. Although disturbed by her macabre fascination, she is overcome with excitement and satisfaction she has never before experienced. One day, she receives a video tape of a girl who has been beaten to death. But before she can unravel the mystery of the tape or her abnormal behavior, she is kidnapped and realizes the horror has only just begun.
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Unfortunately, Abnormal Beauty is one of those films that will annoy a lot of people, because it does not have enough explicit violence to please the gorehounds, yet contains enough to anger everyone else. It seems that almost all of the negative reviews I've seen are either the gorehounds complaining about the first "boring" hour, or the fans of psychological horror complaining about the "gratuitousness" of the last half hour. I think they both miss the point. Just like the critics of Audition.
The violence is not gratuitous here. There is a heaping amount of character development in this film that sets up the finale. This is not empty, sensationalistic tripe that Hollywood loves to release (e.g., Hostel, The Hills Have Eyes, etc.). If someone insists that Abnormal Beauty is gratuitous, then they are effectively saying that explicit violence cannot be used in a film without being so. This is a closed-minded Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of the most blatant type.
The second most complained about feature of this film (following complaints regarding the violence) was the introduction of the killer. Critics claim that he is a Deus ex Machina. The critics are wrong. Abnormal Beauty is not a murder mystery. It's a psychological horror film. The filmmakers are not obligated to present a trail of clues for the viewer to make a probable, educated guess at the identity of the killer. The purpose of presenting the killer is to introduce the perfected state of Jiney's undeveloped psychological affliction in an attempt to cure her of that affliction.
Jiney spends most of the time BEHIND the camera, initiating her mental and sexual fulfillment by viewing the death of living things. At the same time, however, she's becoming more and more detached from reality. This is also manifested by the other subplots, which include her tormenting past and her dysfunctional relationship with her mother - events which she is unable to come to terms with.
Even after her semi-revelation, she is still deeply affected by the pictures that she finds in her locker. She's not fully cured of her affliction yet. Remember, the camera is an important symbol/analogy in this film. Jiney is so helplessly reliant on detachment that she desperately needs the camera to be turned against her. Enter the killer, who places Jiney IN FRONT of the camera, thus forcing her to face reality. This is essential for the filmmakers to culminate the underlying psychological concepts of Abnormal Beauty.
In addition, if I were a sadistic freak working in a library and saw a hot young girl check out a dozen works of literature featuring sadistic pictures, how the hell could I not take notice?
Another complaint of critics is the final scene, which reveals that the lead character killed her cousin. Critics claim that this is an ad hoc, after-the-fact invocation to cheaply explain the movie. The critics are wrong. The traumatic child-hood event at the very end of the film was not the origin of Jiney's psychological condition. That event was already introduced near the beginning of the film: Jiney was sexually abused by her cousin, and her mother didn't believe her. The fact that she pushed her cousin down the stairs is merely a reflection of the negative effects that that initial event had on her. Did you see her face while she was standing at the top of the stairs? It was blank and emotionless - completely detached. The final scene adds emphasis to her psychological breakthrough and reminds us of what she overcame - she is now living again.
And yes, this is much more demanding of the viewer's intelligence than all the carbon-copy garbage coming out of Hollywood nowadays. So this film may not be for the lazy. If you can appreciate smart psychological horror coupled with effective, explicit violence, then you can't go wrong here. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who can't appreciate one or the other, which explains the negative reaction to this film.
After reading online reviews and discussing this film with others, I am convinced that this is the most underrated, under-appreciated East Asian horror film of the last decade. I've seen 73 East Asian horror films. Abnormal Beauty is better than 70 of them. It comes second only to A Tale of Two Sisters and Kairo.
The content of the Pang brothers' films are starting to mature as with potrayal of Karma/reincarnation in the EYE 2. This particular film deals with death and one's fascination and obsession with it. The story deals with 2 school girls(Roseanne and Race Wong, actually sisters in real life who make up the HK pop duo R2) Jiney and her hinted lover Jas. I know it is wierd and tiltilating.
Anyway, Jiney likes photography and gets obsessed with taking photos of death scenes. She got exhilarated and excited when she witnessed a car crash. Jiney develops a twisted hobby and as usual,(taking photos of dead fish, cats etc.) she attracts another in with this hobby, this "another" starts to toy with her. I won't give away the twists and turns but the person who toys with her is disappointing in a way.
However, the film itself has an eerie cinematic feel. The camera work is quite good and fresh, as with most of the Pangs' films. Basically, the "artful death photos" can be both a dark and creepy eye candy for the film. It has mild gore but not extreme.
As with the Pangs' other films, they develop great beginnings and they have a masterful way of putting characters in crisis. Their execution is truly fresh and the atmosphere emulates creepiness. It is the anticlimactic revelation of the villain that doesn't seem to fit but then sometimes, you say: "Why Not?" The torture climax seems like it didn't fit and was just added on to make the twist more shocking. In art, you have to know when to stop painting or else it all falls apart.
Overall, it is worth a look. If you are an ASIAN HORROR FAN, it may be worth the money. [3.5 stars]
Hong-Kong film "Ab-normal Beauty" starts with an intriguing setting about a woman with traumatic past, and Oxide Pang tells her story with his stylish cinematography, one of the well-known trademarks of the Pang Brothers. However, the film's carefully prepared settings are replaced by something else in the second half, where you will see a familiar theme (which I'd rather not discuss here). All I can say is the film might have been better had it explored more the slightly lesbian-like Jiney-Jas relations (especially when they got surprisingly good acing from Race Wong and Rosanne Wong, real-life sisters)..
A few words about the background history of the film. After jointly making terrific "The Eye" and its so-so sequel, the Pang Brothers made an interesting move. That is, the brothers decided to make two movies, one by Oxide Pang and the other by Danny Pang, both of which are loosely connected to each other by one episode about a traffic accident. Oxide Pang made "Sei mong se jun" ("Ab-normal Beauty") while Danny made more light-weight and less successful "Ah ma yau nan" ("Leave Me Alone") starring Ekin Cheng and Charlene Choi. Both can be enjoyed as stand-alone film.
"Ab-normal Beauty" is worth a look for its visual techniques and fine acting. But all in all the film is one of the average Asian horrors which could have been improved with a better script or final chapter.
The Pang brothers do amazing things on a visceral level with this movie, taking the main character and translating her talents into imagery that captures her emotions. That means some rather odd moments and some rather disturbing images but it also means that these same images find something beautiful sitting in the arms of stillness. The direction of this movie has even been termed as being "something like David Lynch," and that does capture a piece of the work. It limits it as well, because the shortcomings of Lynch are where the Pang brothers actually succeed. The plot pieces, the unfolding dynamic of the story; everything here fits together in a beautifully tangent portrait.
If you've seen their work before, you can imagine what the story entails. Its a deceptive type of work, however, and one that is sometimes labeled as horror and is sometimes labeled as drama but happens to be a hybridized variation of both. It has gore but isn't overwhelming, has plots that build but are not too slow, and is a piece of visual art that takes time to digest and makes the mind feel satisfied after-the-fact.
If you have no expectations going in, not expecting murder and not expecting sequels, then you'll certainly be pleased.
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