“Sleepwalker” is the latest solo effort from Oxide Pang, one half of the twin brother directorial duo still best known for their hit 2002 ghost story “The Eye”. The film sees him reteaming with that film’s leading lady, his wife Angelica Lee, this time in a plot dealing with kidnapped children and the always creepy subject of sleepwalking. The film also stars Charlie Young, working for the director again after the ill-advised “Bangkok Dangerous” remake in 2008, along with Huo Siyan (“My Name is Fame”) and Li Zonghan (“Reign of Assassins”), plus Hong Kong character actor favourite Kent Cheng (who memorably starred in a long string of 1980s and 90s classics such as “Run and Kill”, “Dr Lamb”, “Sex and Zen”, and countless others).
Angelica Lee plays clothes maker Ziyi, an unfortunate woman plagued by a disturbing recurring dream about a forest where she suspects a body is buried, which finds her waking up with earth on her hands and feet. After being spotted on one of her midnight sojourns by detective Madam Ou (Huo Siyan), she is pulled into the police investigation surrounding the missing young son of the distraught Becky (Charlie Young). Things get more complicated when Ziyi starts to suspect that she might have killed and buried her cheating ex-husband, and as she slowly unravels the mystery of her dreams it becomes clear that she may well be guilty in one way or another.
As an Oxide Pang film, “Sleepwalker” has much more in common with “The Detective” and sequel rather than co-directed efforts with brother Danny such as “Re-Cycle” or “The Storm Warriors”, being at heart a mystery tale with an ambiguous supernatural twist. The film does in many ways recall his 2007 teaming with Aaron Kwok, showing the same kind of leftfield plotting and narrative twists, grounding its more sinister side with criminal investigation and hints of possible mental illness. This to an extent works quite well, with Pang managing to hold the interest from early on, weaving a fairly complex web of possibilities and suspects, with Ziyi’s condition keeping the viewer guessing as to the nature of her involvement and the reasons behind her nightly strolls. The sleepwalking aspect of the film is handled neatly and whilst it doesn’t add anything particularly striking to the mix Pang milks from it a couple of reasonably innovative ideas. Things do unravel somewhat as the film progresses, mainly since not a great deal actually happens, and aside from a couple of chase scenes and dream sequences, there’s a distinct lack of thrills – not least since the eventual villain is identified very early on in bafflingly clumsy fashion.
Thankfully, although the story is a bit weak and overly reliant upon exposition and flashbacks, Pang does a much better job when it comes to his characters, Ziyi making for a fascinating and unconventional protagonist whose development arc plays out in pleasingly unexpected fashion. Much of the credit for this belongs to Angelica Lee, who is as ever on great form, adding humanity and depth to her role and even managing to survive a bizarre red dye mess of a haircut. The film is very much a female-oriented affair, with Charlie Young and Huo Siyan both turning in decent performances, even if their subplots do at times feel like little more than distractions. As another bonus, it’s always great to see veteran Kent Cheng on screen, and though the big man doesn’t have much to do, it’s remarkable quite how little he seems to have aged since his glory days.
Whilst the film sees Pang largely eschewing special effects and technical trickery, it does feature a respectable amount of flair and imaginative editing, and this helps to liven up some of its more ponderous stretches. The scenes of Ziyi sleepwalking provide the film’s highpoints and add a few tense moments, with some lurid use of colour making for an otherworldly atmosphere. Not that it particularly matter on DVD, but even more so than with “The Child’s Eye”, the use of 3D here is entirely a cynical marketing gimmick that adds nothing discernable whatsoever to the proceedings – in fact, the viewer is likely to forget the supposed third dimension entirely until during the final act a motorcycle crashes and a CGI bike part flies at the camera in hilariously gratuitous slow motion. On the plus side, this does make for a few welcome unintentional laughs.
Although “Sleepwalker” is flawed, it’s still a solid effort and offers a few interesting ideas and a generally engaging and offbeat central mystery, at least during the first two thirds, bolstered by Angelica Lee’s strong central performance. It does though see Oxide Pang treading water as both writer and director, and whilst it benefits from a lack of visual hysterics and is above average for the genre, he has in the past proved himself capable of better.
Oxide Pang Chun (director)
CAST: Kent Cheng
Hee Ching Paw