Forest of Death
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In this mind-twisting thriller from the creators of "The Eye" and "Re-cycle," a dark forest known for causing mysterious deaths becomes the focus of a recent savage murder. A homicide detective, a botanist researching the paranormal, and his tabloid TV reporter girlfriend each embark on a treacherous journey to the heart of this "Forest of Death," where a chilling revelation awaits them all.
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Danny is half of the Brothers Pang, two guys who have been at the forefront of the recent resurgence in Thai cinema on the world stage (Bangkok Dangerous, The Eye). Danny's brother Oxide branched out on his own relatively successfully with The Tesseract, so I guess Danny thought it was time to do his own thing as well. Danny's results have never been as successful as Oxide's, and Forest of Death continues this trend.
Forest of Death is a pretty standard southeast Asian supernatural flick that borrows a good deal from both Il-gon Song's 2004 flick Spider Forest and Pang's own supernatural thrillers (most notably The Eye), but gets some serious starpower on board. Megastar Shu Qi (The Transporter), who'd previously teamed up with Pang in The Eye 2, stars as detective C. C. Ha, head of a task force assigned to look into why so many people are drawn to a particular forest, known as the Forest of Death (one of seven, we are told, in the world), coming from thousands of miles away to commit suicide in the forest. Perhaps they're not all suicides? The equally gorgeous, though far more underrated, Rain Li (House of Mahjongg), co-stars as May, a perky television hostess who becomes obsessed with the idea of doing a story on the Forest and its sole permanent denizen, a forest ranger. Meanwhile, the detective has enlisted the help of the hostess' boyfriend, a botanist named Shu-hoi Shum (Ekin Cheng of Ab-Normal Beauty) who believes that he can really make plants talk; this would obviously be of a great use to the detective in her investigation. The two women each occupy a storyline, and occasionally overlap, but the movie never really makes much of an effort to integrate the two, despite Shu-hoi's presence in both.
While there can be no denying that the photography here is fantastic, and the leads are certainly easy enough on the eyes, the movie never really gels as a movie; the mystery angle is never as pronounced as it is in the films from which Pang and writer Cub Chin (who collaborated with the brothers on their previous collaborative film, Re-Cycle) drew so much of their influence, and that renders this somewhat impotent as anything other than a succession of pretty pictures. We never really get to know the characters as much as we should, which doesn't help matters either. It's not terrible, but there are certainly better Pang-related ways to spend your time. **
There is a notorious forest that attracts young heart-broken people to commit suicide and their bodies are never found. This fact have been sensationalized by the media specifically a young reporter named Mei (Rain Li). Those people actually come from all places, and walks of life. However, a rape and murder case is found in this unnamed forest.
The police finally arrest a suspect named Patrick Wong (Lawrence Chou) but unfortunately they lack the necessary evidence for a conviction. Detective Ha Chung Chi (played by lusciously-lipped Taiwanese actress Shu Qi, So Close) is the new detective in charge, and in her desperation, she invites a botanical scientist named Shum Shu-Hoi (Ekin Cheng) to conduct an experimental procedure which can theoretically disclose the truth. However, unbeknownst to both of them, they are about to uncover not just the truth behind the murder case but may be opening doors to the unknown. What's more Hoi's girlfriend-reporter Mei is also closing in....
The film blends elements from science fiction, the supernatural, CSI-like investigative elements, and it is quite refreshing to see the Pangs try something new. The legends of the forest are quite interesting enough, and as I've said I'm very familiar with this type of myth and the screenplay does give this concept good exposition. The experimental mumbo-jumbo about listening to plants actually require a large suspension of disbelief, but once you take in its links to the unexplained, you may buy into it. I rather thought that the forest is just a conduit for an unknown energy and this factor will remain unexplained and will be left to the viewer's interpretation much like an "X-File". This is the film's basic set up and premise and admittedly it is very interesting.
The cinematography is quite good as with any of the Pangs outings, and it has an ominous feel that also promotes claustrophobia. The visual effects by Fat Face Production is quite decent but truth be told it is the usual "smokey" apparitions we are used to in other Asian films. The film carries a very serious tone, and unfortunately, after the film's initial set ups, the screenplay takes a turn and some elements became a little laughable. I like Shu Qi, I do think she is a competent actress but she is just too pretty to be playing a detective and a little distracting. Her lead character is a little underdeveloped. Ekin Cheng and Lawrence Chou just overacts and their characters tend to become a nuisance after awhile, and what's worse, Mei's (played by Rain Li) media personality is so annoying and feels no more than a plot device to generate a perfunctory romantic complication.
The film's biggest flaw is its lack of compelling characters, it is just so hard to care about what happens to them. The best one I think is the old man, Tin (played by Lau Siu Ming) and he does have a potentially interesting back story but this fact is abandoned early on, so it's direct weight and its links to the forest is left hanging. However, much to Danny Pang's credit, while his characters feel very one-dimensional, he manages to generate some suspense when he focuses on the mysteries of the forest itself. I rather hoped that the developing jealousy between Ha and Mei was abandoned; the script would have done better with a more emotional ending than resorting to a perfunctory one. The unraveling of the mystery does answer a lot of questions, but it also opens more questions. I suppose this was an attempt to keep the viewer guessing, but I didn't find myself asking for more.
Ultimately, "Forest of Death" is a lot better than the abysmal "the Messengers" but totally inferior to "Re-Cycle" and "the Eye". Unfortunately, the plot just wasn't well connected to its characters and the film felt a little dry and undercooked. Still, the film is very competently made with good production values and a decent premise. But it is another exercise of style that made the Pangs popular in Hong Kong and it does offer nothing new--it doesn`t reinvent the supernatural genre, but thankfully it doesn`t damage it either. If this film and if "Diary" is any indication, one wouldn't be hard-pressed to think that brothers Oxide and Danny Pang are better working together than apart.
Recommended with caution, Rent it first [3+ Stars]
This movie was hard to follow.
A forest where people go to commit suicide whose plants can speak and show humans exactly how a girl was murdered and by whom (Patrick Wong). A forest where bodies show up 40 years after the person disappears and the bodies are as"youthful" as when they disappear and where a police woman sees what looks like "space aliens".
Mr Tin (Forest Park caretaker) says "THEY only want to experiment on those who want to comitt suicide and leave those who are strong willed along.
Mr Tin was accidentally shot by a policewoman while they and the plant man went into the forest to find the plant man's girlfriend, May, who wants to commit suicide when her boyfriend won't do a TV show with her and her producer wants to fire her.
While the plot was unique, the execution was weak/choppy. The ending could have been better also by having the plant guy dump his weak/pathetic May and marry the policewoman. A happier ending could have been for the alien being to return Mr. Tin's daughter alive just as youthful as she was when she disappeared years ago. Now THAT would have been a great ending.