Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Charlene Choi, Isabella Leong, Shawn Yue
Director: Oxide Pang Chun
Genres: Indie & Art House, Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Mystery & Suspense
While spending her days crafting wooden dolls and writing in her diary, pretty young Winnie waits in vain for the return of her boyfriend, Seth. One day she meets another man who so closely resembles her lost love that Win... more »
One of the Best
Anticlimacus | 08/22/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Charlene Choi is a schizophrenic woman obsessed with another man (played by Shawn Yue) in this film by director Oxide Pang. The condition of schizophrenia is given ample attention and the script is exceedingly well-written and complex. The visuals are dark with limited (yet effective) use of CGI to communicate important elements to the viewer. There are a lot of twists and turns within this originally structured storyline, but in the end they are all logical extensions when the film is studied and understood properly. This is one of the best horror films I've ever had the pleasure of watching.
If Gillian Chung had her breakthrough performance in Beyond Our Ken (2004), then Charlene Choi has now officially had her breakthrough performance in Diary (2006). She's practically unrecognizable from her previous roles. She's psychologically fragile, obsessive, desperate, subtle, and very unstable. In other words, she's fantastic.
The cinematography and settings are gorgeous, using a variety of techniques to create a dim, murky atmosphere. Some scenes are in black-and-white, while others are shot with restricted colors. The overall feel of the film reminded me of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's work, absent the ambient soundtrack - Oxide uses his trademark horror beats to great effect here. The limited CGI is very fantasy-like, which is interesting considering the fact that it occurs within an apartment. Basically, Diary is eye candy from minute one.
It is ironic that all of the great storytelling that was lacking from Re-Cycle (2006) has miraculously appeared in Diary. It's almost as if the Pangs decided to sacrifice the former for the latter, because Diary simply could not be written more effectively. It acts like a mystery that slowly reveals itself until the very last frame. There is a significant focus on character perspective and subjectivity that ultimately provides the driving force.
Most of the reviews I've read have been positive. However, some have taken issue with the structure that Oxide chose to use. Needless to say, it's wacked out and totally different than most movies. I don't want to get too specific, but all I will say is that I thought the movie had ended a number of times before it actually did. Fortunately, all of those "extra" scenes were the best parts. I personally think that the critics are misguided, since the weird format works very well.
Let's put it this way. I've seen over 130 East Asian horror films, and Diary ranks among the top 5.
Rating: A magnificent 5 out of 5."
A masterpiece of sight, sound, and sadness
Phillip Royer | San Francisco | 07/16/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Criticisms of the writing and screenplay aside, this is an engaging film on the surface. I loved it even though I didn't get it. The creative camera angles, the mostly gray/green color palette accentuating a sense of disease or decay, the original music and sound design, and the beauty of the actors add up to a sensuous ninety minute delight. At times the film seemed adrift on a sea of music carried along by the score instead of leading it, while at other times the conspicuous absence of any sound almost embarrasses the viewer in moments of voyeuristic character study. Having said that, there isn't much depth or background to the characters in Diary, but the focus on their moments of here and now is sharp and clear.
Charlene Choi is magnificent as the schizophrenic, sad and lonely Winnie. Her face has a beauty suited to smoldering evil or desperate sadness inside, and she presents this facade so convincingly that in her very few, very brief moments of happiness, the shy and hopeful smile that accompanies the change evokes the poetic innocence of a rescued child. It's captivating and magnetic. It draws the viewer into a collaborative dream of promise that when quickly and sadly broken the feeling of empathy is profound. That's good acting and directing.
The ending very clearly presents a major twist. The cast credits only three people, so one must conclude that the real instigator was Winnie's neighbor but it sure didn't look like the same person to me. Her character was presented as a likely ne'er do well, but I'm not sure if it was her or if it was some alter ego, some schizophrenic other personality of Winnie. ***END SPOILER*** I think the ending twist was unnecessary and even though I didn't grasp the director's intent, it didn't bother me remotely enough to spoil the film.
Another aspect of the sensuousness of this film concerns the language and subtitles. This is a Hong Kong film, the language is Cantonese. I understand about three words of Cantonese but find the language wonderfully lyrical. Even in the few instances where the characters scream at one another there is a musicality to it. Most of the film drifts along like the melody of a bedtime lullaby, perhaps a byproduct of Charlene Choi's other profession as a (rather famous in Hong Kong) canto-pop singer.
Concerning the English subtitles--at least the set that accompanied the film I watched. Subtitles are often a spongey issue. I imagine that one of two things are usually expected: that they are translationally accurate or that they convey more accurately the mood and intent of the speaker. One phrase uttered several times in this film by Winnie is, "I like to make puppets as I always think they are able to share with me". I don't know what that means because it could mean so many thing--in context or out of context. I can only hope the native language meaning is also as wonderfully ambiguous.
Anyone familiar with someone learning English as a second language has experienced moments of questionable grammar that are crystal clear in meaning and intent. Because I find the rub of language so fascinating, I'm glad the subtitles appear to have been done by someone whose English was a second language. There are many examples, but a few gems for me were: "I like to make puppets and write my diary", "Do you have an affair?" (for, Are you having an affair?), "She instigated me!", and my favorite, "Seth often complained of my cookery." (You'll have to see the movie to enjoy the full impact of that last one.)
Diary is for the most part a dark and moody mellow drama. But Oxide Pang throws in a little horror scene, a very common practice in much of Asian cinema. I like to call it genre-hopping. I love the way he fuses a very sensual moment with fangs."
Ambitious Plot with Great Acting--But Good Execution is also
Woopak | Where Dark Asian Knights Dwell | 02/12/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I was real pleased to see the Pang Brothers redeem themselves with "Re-Cycle". Now, Oxide Pang is all by his lonesome directing "DIARY" (2006), although brother Danny is close by as co-producer. This film is not your usual long-haired ghosts and white make up, it is more about the workings of a disturbed mind. The film does look like it is a film of great quality, creepy atmosphere and a good acting from one half of the pop duo, "Twins"; Charlene Choi. However, the film's good production values does not match the quality of its script and direction.
Winnie Yeung (Charlene Choi) is a young woman who had been recently dumped by her boyfriend, Seth Lau. Comforted by her friend, (played by Isabella Leong, Mummy 3) Winnie is adamant on meeting someone else--enter Ray Fan (Shawn Yue),who according to Winnie looks very similar to Seth. Looks like a match based on a bad idea right? Well, Winnie is a woman who suffers from delusions that borders on schizophrenia--she suffers hallucinations and has a fixation on dolls and puppets which would make things a lot complicated. But how does Yvonne Ho fit into all this?
It is very difficult to review this film without giving spoilers, not because it is complex stuff but it is just so predictable. The film is meant to be a cerebral experience and a good psychological thriller--so what makes one effective in this genre? It needs solid direction with well-developed rules that set the groundwork. The film doesn't misdirect, director Oxide Pang shows us that Winnie is very delusional and is mentally imbalanced early on; complete with seeing a dark cloud, imaginary earthquake, walking puppets with a voiceover that defines delusional people. So just what is real and what isn't? The film's premise is intriguing enough but it misleads in the cheapest ways.
The problems begin when the rules and groundwork aren't laid down by the script and further made worst by the screenplay and direction. So, I guess color isn't real and black and white is--no, this wasn't established by the direction. Hints of what is real are told by flashbacks? No, because Winnie is so unhinged that some of her own flashbacks are fantasy. So is the "Diary" the real truth, well, it was, until it was revealed that it has entries that take place a year into the future. I supposed this was an attempt by the director to give the audience the impression that Winnie's mental state was beyond retrieval. But when it does go full circle, I saw "Produced by the Pang Bros." as if the film was ending--nope it doesn't. This is where everything gets revealed and given answers, well, at least it does attempt to anyway. The answer is neither shocking nor impressive, it borders on becoming an annoyance that I had difficulties of buying into it. Why? Poor characterization, abundance of plot holes, it comes so short of being credible, no groundwork and the puppet behind the wall just felt that it was a "visual punch". It seeks to set the groundwork by displaying an abundance of flashbacks, that some rules introduced were just fantasy. I could go on and on with its flaws, it was intriguing enough, but it tried really hard to misdirect on its final resolution by a very cheap trick--cheap because it lacked so much credibility.
However, the acting by Charlene Choi does keep the film from becoming a total lost. Choi was very good in her portrayal. She is creepy and quite convincing with her role as a mentally imbalanced young beautiful woman. She has a very innocent-like charisma and it fit her role as one trying to hide an imbalanced personality. There is some disturbing imagery, but none that we haven't seen before. The atmosphere and cinematography has that greenish hue, dark and unsettling. When it comes to style, the Pangs definitely does has the technical know how. The locale of the film are in very minor locations, and I like a setting that is kept simple.
I really didn't think that this film is successful in delivering what it wanted to. The twists were haunting at first look, but for those very adulterated to a "Sixth Sense" or the Norwegian thriller "Next Door's" manipulations would find that the film falters. After the bewildering explanations, the twist felt it lacked necessity and it felt that it had no weight behind it. There is some tension generated on some scenes and some plot build ups, but it was all for naught since it was obvious. All the film does demonstrate is just how disturbed and mentally ill Winnie truly is, and the final shocking element in the final act is just pointless because there is no solid groundwork that it is missing needed narrative impact. Also, what is up with the utterly annoying "Directed by Oxide Pang" deal before the film ends almost 23 minutes after? It served no purpose at all unless it was meant as a warning....that we should turn off the dvd and the following scene was just an add-on? The film has great ambitions, but in this case, good quality is also a delusion I suppose.
RENTAL [2 ½ Stars]