Distinctive (2002) Movie Review

In times like these, when Western cinema screens are plagued with vapid, money grabbing remakes of vastly superior Asian films, it is vaguely comforting to find the likes of “Distinctive”, which provides positive proof that such unwanted traffic travels in both directions. The film is modeled on the traditional Hollywood ‘creature feature’ subgenre, telling the age old tale of a group of youngsters who wander into the wild in search of a legendary monster, and supposedly setting the scene for carnage.

Although the idea of an Eastern interpretation of such an overused premise is an initially interesting idea, “Distinctive” turns out to be a failure on every possible level, being an inexcusably shoddy carbon copy of its Western counterparts. Unfortunately, and quite inexplicably, this is a result of its choice to copy only the worst aspects of its source material, and quite pointedly avoids any of the visceral content that could have at least made the proceedings entertaining. By electing to deny viewers any blood, nudity, or even special effects, the filmmakers seem to have made the incomprehensible decision to annoy and frustrate, leaving an empty, hollow, and ultimately pointless shell which has nothing to offer anyone.

The plot barely merits mention, and reads like a hundred similar features. Briefly, it concerns a couple of reporters and a group of young people who travel to the forests and mountains of the Yunan province in China in search of a mysterious beast with the odd, rather literal name of ‘distinctive’. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that some members of the group seek the creature for their own greedy ends, as there is a considerable reward for samples of its skin and fur. This leads to conflict, not only with each other, but also with the odd inhabitants of the old town where they are staying, and of course, with the understandably enraged distinctive creature itself.

As should be patently obvious from the above synopsis, director Ya Gan has made absolutely no effort to spice up the formula whatsoever, and within just a few scenes it is made abundantly clear that the viewer should expect nothing but clich’ upon clich’. The film stays true to every stereotype of the subgenre, from ominous warnings by weird villagers to annoying red herring villains, right through to the creature being represented by ludicrous plastic claws that occasionally intrude into the frame. This continues right through until the staggeringly lame ending, which involves a great deal of singing, dancing, and some kind of patronising cultural message.

All of this would have of course been quite forgivable if the film itself had been up to scratch, but sadly “Distinctive” is shockingly inept, and director Gan shows an amazing lack of skill for even the most basic elements of filmmaking. In addition to imbuing the whole sorry mess with an inexorably slow pace, Gan seems blissfully ignorant of continuity, even switching from day to night several times during the course of one mock-hysterical chase scene. It’s hard to say how the director handles action sequences, as the sad truth is there aren’t any, just endless scenes of people wandering around in a forest whose beauty the director seems determined not to exploit. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that the soundtrack is made up of ill-fitting tunes which have been lifted either from other films (including “The Shining”) or classical pieces, and simply thrown together without any thought for effect or mood.

Unquestionably, the worst failing of “Distinctive” is its lack of any kind of visceral content. Although the film has a category III rating, it barely registers as IIb, and there is no nudity and only a couple of weak scenes of after-the-fact gore. As a result, the viewer feels incredibly cheated, and if anything, the film comes across as painfully coy and in gratuitously good taste. This works to the film’s considerable disadvantage in many ways, not least of which is the fact that the bloodless death scenes (which in themselves are few and far between) generally involve cast members merely falling out of shot with a mild yelp, leaving the viewer in serious confusion as to exactly who is dead and who is still alive.

Similarly, after suffering through the umpteenth towel-wearing shower scene, it becomes clear that the film has no intention of showing even enough skin to qualify as a tease. And with a nagging feeling of being insulted, the viewer simply switches off. To be honest, even if “Distinctive” had contained buckets of blood and a considerable quotient of nudity, its proud lack of originality and astoundingly shoddy execution would still have left it as a film that simply begs to be ignored.

Ya Gan (director)
CAST: Cecilia Yip Tung, Chan Kwok-Bong, Guk Fung, Chan Chin Pang, Hong Dou, Benny Chan

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