Ab-normal Beauty

Ab-normal Beauty


Reviewed by: Merlin Harries

Set in Bangkok, the story of Ab-normal Beauty focuses on Jiney (Race Wong) a promising young photography student who, at the outset of the film, witnesses a horrific car crash. The sight of the critically injured victim awakens an intense and somewhat perverse fascination with death so much so that she begins photographing dying people and animals. Moving throughout the city, she photographs everything from suicides to chickens being decapitated in an effort to quench her thirst for death leading her into the clutches of a depraved serial killer.

The mastery of films such as Audition (1999) are obviously one of the more prevalent influences on the Pang Brother's recent offering; however, don't rent this one expecting the tension or subtlety of Miike's masterpiece. Having already provided us with Bangkok Haunted (2001) and The Eye (2002), the Pang Brothers have been firmly cemented within the ongoing boom in extreme Asian cinema, typified by the likes of earlier films, such as Ring (1998). All the elements of extreme terror are present and used fluently by the Pangs to create a reasonably unsettling story with some unique visuals.

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The character of Jiney is at once pitiful and unsettling, garnering both the audience's sympathy and fear, as it is revealed that she was sexually molested as a younger girl. This trauma has somehow led to an unhealthy interest in death and, as she goes about the city photographing various grim scenes, she spirals deeper into an obsession that eventually leads to tragedy. The Pangs succeed in tapping into the darker areas of the human psyche and its fascination with the many images of death and Wong's performance proves to be surprisingly convincing.

The film's one downfall is the final quarter, where an unknown stalker looms over the horizon and begins dispatching Jiney's friends and sending her videotapes of his handiwork. The last act is completely unwarranted and unsympathetically hacks away at what proved to be a very promising plot with some apt performances. The failing here is, perhaps, the desire, or need, to cater to audiences expecting gruesome violence, but only succeeds in killing off what could have been a real winner. The special effects during the killer's video footage are entirely laughable and wouldn't have cut the mustard in the mid-Nineties.

Viewers should be warned that Ab-normal Beauty is not quite on the same page as other examples from the Tartan Extreme production house. Despite the fact that it tackles a seemingly gruesome subject matter, the frights are kept to a bare minimum, as the Pangs focus on Jiney's internal conflict with her desires and eventual realisation that her feelings stem back to the distress of her childhood. The eventual realisation that she killed her cousin in retaliation for the abuse he and his friends inflicted upon her is revealed as the young Jiney stands staring from the top of the stairs at the lifeless corpse at the bottom.

Like the title, there are scenes that prove to be visually mesmerising, not least when Jiney swings from a 10th story balcony, immersed in apparent tranquillity at the thought of committing suicide. In juxtaposition with the moments of calm there are also moments where her insatiable desire to move ever closer to death becomes genuinely unsettling, a case in point being the bucket full of twitching chicken corpses in the market sequence.

In short, Ab-normal Beauty carries with it most of the pros and cons of modern day extreme cinema from Asia. The cinematography and framing are both graceful and purposeful, lending a real gravity to certain scenes. However, this is all too quickly rendered ineffectual by a haphazard final act that detracts from what could have been an enjoyable film.

Reviewed on: 24 Apr 2006
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Portrait of the artist as a troubled soul.
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Anton Bitel ***1/2

Director: Oxide Pang

Writer: Oxide Pang, Pak Sing Pang

Starring: Race Wong, Rosanne Wong, Anson Leung, Michelle Mee, Ekin Cheng

Year: 2004

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Hong Kong


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