Wanting very much to be a Chinese equivalent of David Fincher's seminal horror film Se7en, Marco Mak's Slim Till Dead is a grisly serial killer thriller with just a hint of social message mixed in to provide the semblance of psychological depth. The likeable Anthony Wong (Infernal Affairs) stars as a police inspector on the trail of a sicko who's been kidnapping fashion models and starving them to death. Once captured, each victim is locked away and instructed that they have one week to drop down to exactly 70 pounds. If they can't make the goal weight in time without dying first, some body parts may have to be sacrificed until the scales balance properly. The challenge is not one designed to have any winners.
Intended as a critique of the fashion and diet industries, the movie serves up a host of characters with body image issues. The main action takes place at the Friends of Fitness beauty spa, where middle-class women pay money to be underfed and have all of their flaws pointed out to them. Already unhealthily thin, one of the victims doesn't think the ordeal will be such a bad idea at first if it gives her the opportunity to shed some of those unwanted ounces. Even our hero experiences marital strain because his wife refuses to have sex with him in fear of getting pregnant and hence fat. In one of the movie's more interesting meta-cinematic scenes, we're taken onto the set and behind the scenes of the real Chinese horror film Dumplings (or a convincing facsimile of it), another tale of an unnatural fixation on youth and beauty.
Slim Till Dead is a slick, polished, and ultimately superficial thriller whose pretensions about addressing serious issues are undercut by a reliance on generic serial killer movie clichés. The picture is filled with shock cuts, "stinger" scares, and lots of gruesome flash-frame imagery. The plot of course delivers a number of requisite red herrings, all leading to the revelation of the killer as exactly the person we thought it would be when they were first introduced. Some poorly executed attempts at lowbrow humor don't help matters much. Supporting characters have names like Tin Fuk, Inspector Tit, and (I kid you not, American Idol fans) William Hung. The subplot about Inspector Wong's unsatisfying sex life is also inappropriately jokey in the most juvenile of ways. The fact that star Anthony Wong looks to have lost quite a bit of weight since the Infernal Affairs series not very long ago seems to work against the movie's message as well.
To give it some credit, the movie is efficient at what it does and is reasonably entertaining. Wong is a charismatic and appealing lead, even when given such thin material (no pun intended). It's not a great work of art, or even as good as it might have been with a little more thought and effort, but Slim Till Dead certainly isn't the worst of the Se7en imitators, and is worth a look for fans of Chinese horror movies.
The DVD from Mei Ah Entertainment is encoded in the NTSC format with no region coding and will function in any American DVD player. Be wary of reading the mangled-English story summary on the back of the case, which gives away too many plot spoilers. In fact, don't look very closely at the photos either.
The movie's photography is very slick and polished, and the anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 video transfer replicates it well. The picture is sharp and detailed with no noticeable edge enhancement. All of the stylized and filtered colors are also vibrantly conveyed. Black level is deep and rich with fine shadow detail and excellent contrast range.
Surprisingly for such a new movie, random print flecks and dirt do show up on rare occasions. They aren't enough to be a serious distraction, fortunately. The digital compression quality is perfectly adequate overall, with just a few minor artifact occurrences.
The original Cantonese language soundtrack is available in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 options. Both are extremely loud and bassy, with aggressive split-surround imaging. The opening credits montage in particular is a great show-off piece. The sound effects and score are crisply recorded and presented with great fidelity, especially the DTS track. My only note of complaint is that the dialogue sync is sometimes erratic, likely due to sloppy post-production ADR work.
A Mandarin dub track is also available in Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles have been provided in English and Chinese (both Traditional and Simplified). The subtitles do not translate the audio snippets during the opening montage. The English translation throughout the movie is simply awful. The garbled grammar and phrasing are barely coherent, and will force you to spend a great deal of the movie thinking through what the characters may have meant to say.
Perhaps fittingly, the disc's bonus features are slim pickings indeed. All we get are an anamorphic theatrical trailer and a cast & crew list (just a list, not bios). The same text summary from the back of the case is also reprinted on one of the menu pages.
No ROM supplements have been included either.
Slim Till Dead may not be one of the best entries in the recent wave of Asian horror, but it gets the job done well enough to qualify as at least a rental recommendation for fans of the genre. The all-region DVD from Hong Kong has very good picture and sound, but lousy subtitles. Unfortunately, I don't foresee a better edition coming along any time soon.