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Release Date: 3-FEB-2009
Media Type: DVD
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
If Gillian Chung had her breakthrough performance in Beyond Our Ken (2004), then Charlene Choi has now officially had her breakthrough performance in Diary (2006). She's practically unrecognizable from her previous roles. She's psychologically fragile, obsessive, desperate, subtle, and very unstable. In other words, she's fantastic.
The cinematography and settings are gorgeous, using a variety of techniques to create a dim, murky atmosphere. Some scenes are in black-and-white, while others are shot with restricted colors. The overall feel of the film reminded me of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's work, absent the ambient soundtrack - Oxide uses his trademark horror beats to great effect here. The limited CGI is very fantasy-like, which is interesting considering the fact that it occurs within an apartment. Basically, Diary is eye candy from minute one.
It is ironic that all of the great storytelling that was lacking from Re-Cycle (2006) has miraculously appeared in Diary. It's almost as if the Pangs decided to sacrifice the former for the latter, because Diary simply could not be written more effectively. It acts like a mystery that slowly reveals itself until the very last frame. There is a significant focus on character perspective and subjectivity that ultimately provides the driving force.
Most of the reviews I've read have been positive. However, some have taken issue with the structure that Oxide chose to use. Needless to say, it's wacked out and totally different than most movies. I don't want to get too specific, but all I will say is that I thought the movie had ended a number of times before it actually did. Fortunately, all of those "extra" scenes were the best parts. I personally think that the critics are misguided, since the weird format works very well.
Let's put it this way. I've seen over 130 East Asian horror films, and Diary ranks among the top 5.
Rating: A magnificent 5 out of 5.
While the movie, for me, is difficult to explain it is one that I really enjoyed watching and was able to follow. This for me signifies a successful and great film. It takes a dark, schizophrenic and insecure world and through its layered visions and immense angst, weaves a story that has you questioning what you're seeing and what you're believing.
To explain the film is beyond me and simply, there are plenty of movie and plot summaries out there. But as a movie, I think this is a very successful film and a great entry in the catalog of the Pang's. It is wonderfully shot, edited and produced nicely, with superb acting, an in-depth plot with enough uncertainty and twists to keep me satisfied and was truly an enjoyment to watch.
Charlene Choi is magnificent as the schizophrenic, sad and lonely Winnie. Her face has a beauty suited to smoldering evil or desperate sadness inside, and she presents this facade so convincingly that in her very few, very brief moments of happiness, the shy and hopeful smile that accompanies the change evokes the poetic innocence of a rescued child. It's captivating and magnetic. It draws the viewer into a collaborative dream of promise that when quickly and sadly broken the feeling of empathy is profound. That's good acting and directing.
The ending very clearly presents a major twist. The cast credits only three people, so one must conclude that the real instigator was Winnie's neighbor but it sure didn't look like the same person to me. Her character was presented as a likely ne'er do well, but I'm not sure if it was her or if it was some alter ego, some schizophrenic other personality of Winnie. ***END SPOILER*** I think the ending twist was unnecessary and even though I didn't grasp the director's intent, it didn't bother me remotely enough to spoil the film.
Another aspect of the sensuousness of this film concerns the language and subtitles. This is a Hong Kong film, the language is Cantonese. I understand about three words of Cantonese but find the language wonderfully lyrical. Even in the few instances where the characters scream at one another there is a musicality to it. Most of the film drifts along like the melody of a bedtime lullaby, perhaps a byproduct of Charlene Choi's other profession as a (rather famous in Hong Kong) canto-pop singer.
Concerning the English subtitles--at least the set that accompanied the film I watched. Subtitles are often a spongey issue. I imagine that one of two things are usually expected: that they are translationally accurate or that they convey more accurately the mood and intent of the speaker. One phrase uttered several times in this film by Winnie is, "I like to make puppets as I always think they are able to share with me". I don't know what that means because it could mean so many thing--in context or out of context. I can only hope the native language meaning is also as wonderfully ambiguous.
Anyone familiar with someone learning English as a second language has experienced moments of questionable grammar that are crystal clear in meaning and intent. Because I find the rub of language so fascinating, I'm glad the subtitles appear to have been done by someone whose English was a second language. There are many examples, but a few gems for me were: "I like to make puppets and write my diary", "Do you have an affair?" (for, Are you having an affair?), "She instigated me!", and my favorite, "Seth often complained of my cookery." (You'll have to see the movie to enjoy the full impact of that last one.)
Diary is for the most part a dark and moody mellow drama. But Oxide Pang throws in a little horror scene, a very common practice in much of Asian cinema. I like to call it genre-hopping. I love the way he fuses a very sensual moment with fangs.