Saturday, December 9, 2006

Ab-normal Beauty (2004)

Death is fascinating, mysterious and even beautiful. How close to death can we get before being profoundly affected?

Jin (Race Wong) is an art student who's main interest is photography. She, along with her girlfriend Jas (Roseanne Wong) like to go out and photograph buildings, flowers and landscapes. Jin is left uninspired by the photos she takes until one day she witnesses a fatal car crash. She impulsively begins taking photos of the scene and the victims. From then on she becomes obsessed with photographing death. She takes pictures of dead birds, dead pets, and even pays a butcher to slaughter a bunch of chickens in front of her lens. Her fixation soon drives her to the brink of madness and thoughts of murder until Jas helps her pull through. It is then that the horror really begins as someone who has been watching Jin starts sending her pictures of death and snuff torture films. Jin isn't sure if these terrible images are real or not, but she will soon discover what happens when someone's obsession with death goes too far.

The Pang brothers strike again, making the combination of style and substance look easy. Beautifully framed shots, vivid colors and intense character development of the lead Jin make for a satisfying viewing. The entire film feels like a piece of artwork, capturing beauty and emotion.

The first hour focuses on Jin and her growing love of all things morbid. She compares photographs to death - both are a moment frozen in time, where everything is still and all that matters is that one moment. As more and more is revealed about her past and as she spirals more and more out of control, we really do feel for the poor girl. This close connection that we, the audience, have to Jin makes what happens in the last half hour all the more unbearable.

The last half hour focuses on someone that has watched Jin's growing interest in death and has relished in it. Jin receives disturbing photographs from this mystery person, as well as video tapes whose outside covers are etched with the words "Take a Look." Jin and Jas both watch a tape with a horrific torture of a girl who is repeatedly pummeled with a large steel pipe. At this point, the first hour of the movie and this last 30 minutes feel like completely separate films. In the end though, both parts come together. Without Jin's obsession, breakdown and death detox, there could have never been a mysterious figure, shadowing her every move.

Ab-normal Beauty is a film that's not to be missed. Unlike the horror in The Eye (also made by the Pang brothers) that focused on ghosts, this film goes deeper to examine one's own demons and the ensuing psychological torment of "going too far." As horror lovers, have we gone too far? Like Jin, we too can become obsessed with scenes of death, of brutality and gore. Where do we draw the line? Will our hunger for horror, for the most extreme, drive us to cross this line?

This movie asks these questions, but not without delivering emotion, beauty and some wicked brutality. It is definitely a departure from the scares of The Eye, but it is still very effective. For these reasons, Ab-normal Beauty gets high marks.

Order it on Amazon!

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