Re-Cycle (2006) Movie Review

“Re-Cycle” is the latest effort from Hong Kong ‘s dynamic directing duo Danny and Oxide Pang. The film screened at the 2006 Cannes International Film Festival, closing the “Un Certain Regard”, marking the growing international recognition of the talented twins. Although “Re-Cycle” sees them sticking with the supernatural, the film is quite difficult to categorise, being less actual horror, and more dark, hallucinogenic karmic fantasy. In this way, it certainly comes as a breath of fresh air in a genre still sadly overcrowded by the increasingly tired looking long haired female ghost.

The film follows Ting-yin (actress Angelica Lee, who previously worked with the Pangs on their classic horror “The Eye”), a popular novelist who decides that her latest book will be a supernatural work. Unfortunately, she finds herself unable to focus, and keeps discarding ideas, crumpling up pages of writing and throwing them in the bin. At the same time, her life is thrown into turmoil both by the reappearance of an old boyfriend and by the fact that she starts to suspect that her apartment is haunted. Bizarrely, when she leaves her building one day she steps out not onto the streets she knows, but into a strange, decaying world populated by threatening ghostly figures. Aided by an old man and a young girl, Ting-yin desperately tries to find ‘The Transit’, which is apparently her only way out of the surreal nightmare.

“Re-Cycle” is very obviously a Pang brothers’ film, shot through with their strong visual style, though thankfully here they have toned down the fast editing and dizzying camera work for which they have become known. Indeed, the first third of the film, which is set mainly in Ting-yin’s apartment and featuring the usual half seen ghosts and rampant long black hair appearing in sinks could have been lifted straight from “The Eye” or either of its sequels. Although these early scenes are reasonably suspenseful, mostly due to the use of sudden blasts of electronic music, they are depressingly familiar, and it is fair to say that the film gets off to a less than promising start.

Thankfully, as soon as Ting-yin is sucked into the other world, things improve immeasurably, and “Re-Cycle” emerges as the most startlingly creative genre film to have come from Hong Kong in some time. The visuals are absolutely gorgeous, with the Pangs letting their imaginations run wild and displaying a wonderful eye for detail. The film features countless stunning images, including forests of corpses and rusting fairgrounds, all of which are brought to life by excellent CGI work, and the film is one of the few which actually makes good use of the technology. The visuals are not merely decorative, but are used for a number of thrilling set pieces as well as for their thematic value, with most of them being overtly symbolic.

Aside from a few effective jolts, there is not too much in the way of actual horror, and as such the film works more as a journey into the unknown, as like the protagonist the viewer is immediately immersed and disorientated by the ever-shifting world, with little clue as to what will happen next. Despite this, the Pangs do hold true to their basic central premise and never wander off into self-indulgence, although the film is clearly driven by themes rather than narrative logic, and they are clearly not too concerned with the whys or wherefores of the situation. The film sticks to their usual concerns of karma and reincarnation, but this time focuses on abandonment and loneliness, although this only becomes clear towards the latter stages of the protagonist’s travels.

Inevitably, “Re-Cycle” walks a fine line between style and substance, and it essentially functions as an elaborate ghost train fairground ride. Ting-yin, who is the only real character as such, is rather thinly drawn, and although she is the viewer’s eyes and ears in the strange fantasy world, she is never fleshed out beyond a few basic attempts at generating sympathy in the film’s early stages. This does mean that the ending lacks the kind of emotional impact for which the Pangs are obviously aiming, and that the film as a whole is rather distant aside from a vague feeling of sadness.

However, this criticism is easily forgiven in the face of the tedium which has come to categorise Hong Kong horror in recent years, and “Re-Cycle” stands as one of the genre’s best, indeed from any Asian country for some time. Artistically stunning and showing an amazing ingenuity, it confirms the Pangs as amongst the most interesting directors working in cinema today.

Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang (director) / Cub Chin, Sam Lung, Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang, Thomas Pang (screenplay)
CAST: Angelica Lee …. Ting-yin
Zeng Qiqi …. Ting-yu
Siu-Ming Lau …. Old Man

Buy Re-Cycle on DVD