UK Release date: 23rd April 2012
UK Distributor: Cine Du Monde
Director: The Pang Brothers
Starring: Angelica Lee, Yaqi Zeng, Viraiwon Jauwseng, Siu-Ming Lau, Lawrence Chou
Running time: 109 mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
Few filmmakers thrill and frustrate the way The Pang Brothers do. Early collaborations – Bangkok Dangerous and The Eye in particular – were smash hits the world over. Their solo outings have been something of a mixed bag, with Oxide fairing slightly better than Danny. Abnormal Beauty, Diary and The Detective are certainly worth a look, but recent offerings has definitely been more miss than hit. Storm Warriors – a sequel to smash hit movie The Storm Riders – was a huge disappointment, and over the last few years we have had to endure Hollywood misfire The Messengers, as well as 3D infused (should that read infuriating?) features The Childs Eye and Sleepwalker. Re-cycle was released in 2006, sandwiched between The Eye 2 and their Hollywood debut; it’s also arguably their greatest achievement.
Angelica Lee (married to Oxide and starring in the second of three collaborations with the siblings) is Ting-yin, a popular author struggling with writers block. Her love life is way past complicated and the waste paper bin is overflowing with discarded themes and ideas. The pressure of writing her latest novel is proving too much, but things get worse when she starts to sense that her apartment is haunted. Horror convention is thrown out the window when she leaves her world behind, opening the door to a mystical plain where characters she rejected live on. An old man (Lau Siu Ming) tells her that she must go to "The Transit" if she hopes to get home, and a little girl (Tsang Nga Kei) joins her on an extraordinary journey from one desolate world to the next. Re-cycle is available for the first time on U.K. shores courtesy of Cine du Monde.
From a technical perspective The Pang Brothers have always been impressive, and in terms of groundbreaking visuals they always raise the bar. Storyline and character development have taken a backseat in recent years, which probably explains why latter movies have failed to set the world on fire. The same can’t be said for Re-cycle though, a supernatural horror movie with imagination oozing from every frame. You’ll be hard pushed to find it in the opening act however, everything about the first 30 minutes suggests textbook horror yarn, but much like the words on the page of her new book, Re-cycle takes on a life of its own when Ting-yin is thrust into a world of spine tingling visual splendour. Two worlds collide with staggering intensity, moving from one awe-inspiring set piece to the next. It’s a feast for the eyes from start to finish, blessed with mind-blowing special effects and earth shattering sound design.
The first act finds us in familiar terrain then, with The Pang Brothers serving up a happy horror meal of obligatory scares and familiar shock tactics. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, they change the face of modern horror; pulling the rug from under our feet and blowing us clean away. With the opening act proving little more than a smokescreen, token chills are left behind in favour of feverish fantasy and haunting grace. The Pang Brothers should certainly stick to the fantasy genre, because the imagery they conjure is positively sublime. There are so many worlds to choose from (in some ways it plays like a video game), and with each new world comes a fresh challenge for the filmmakers. They don’t ignore their horror roots entirely, but by incorporating worthwhile themes, they are able to dig that little bit deeper.
With so many worlds to explore, it’s hard to pick out a favourite moment. Re-cycle takes us on a tour of Ghost’s Bridge, Embryo Tunnel, Playground of the Damned and Toy Ruin, with an honourable mention to my own personal favourite, Gravestones. With so much invention in every frame, there’s a chance you’ll get lost in the elegance of it all, but scratch beneath the surface and you’ll discover a whole lot more than a pretty picture book. The Pang Brothers are keen to tackle some serious issues along the way, with themes of love, loss and above all else, abandonment, tugging at the heartstrings of contemporary horror.
Sympathetic characters go along way in a movie like this, and they’ve found just that in Yaqi Zeng and Angelica Lee (a.k.a. Lee Singe). Child actors can make or break a movie, but they always seem to raise their game in the horror genre. Yaqi Zeng is no exception, and come the films final revelation, chances are there won’t be a single dry eye in the house. Angelica Lee brings natural warmth to the role of Ting-yin, as she did in The Eye and Chi-Leung Law’s enthusiastic horror outing, Koma. Ting-yin is both beautiful and fragile, but much like every classic horror ‘victim’, she comes with a steely determination that wins through in the final act. Best of all, she does it (as always) with her face partially covered by hair – undeniably exquisite. Heartbreaking themes only add to the appeal, which is all rather strange really, because you rarely get to use the words ‘tragic’ and ‘beautiful’ in the same sentence when describing a horror movie.
It would be easy to criticise Re-cycle for being little more than an extended chase sequence with fancy visuals, but taking that stance is missing the point entirely. The Pang Brothers have stepped outside the box with Re-cycle, delivering a fantasy yarn with great performances, striking visuals and deeper meaning. It just so happens to have zombies, ghosts and people falling from the sky, that’s all. The fantasy genre has been missing something of late, and with Re-cycle, horror has never looked more beautiful.
All pictures © Cine Du Monde 2012