NOTE: Please be aware that this DVD is an import set from Hong Kong and is coded for Region 3 DVD players. In order to view this DVD, you'll have to have either a Region 3 coded or Region Free DVD player. [Recommended Region Free Players] It will not play in standard Region 1 North American DVD players.
Oxide and Danny Pang, collectively known as The Pang Brothers, made quite a splash a few years ago with their interesting ghost story, The Eye, which starred lovely Angelica Lee. Their latest effort, Re-Cycle, seems to be a follow up film of sorts to that movie as it not only finds the Pangs working with Lee in the lead again but it also puts them back into ghost story territory. Rest assured, however, that this is not just another 'long black haired ghost' movie from the East. While the film definitely has some similarities to what's come before it the Pang Brothers have crafted a very original and quite memorable film here that, despite some flaws, will stick with you for some time to come.
Ting Yin (Angelica Lee) is the best selling author of a trilogy of romance books who is enjoying all the success that comes with selling millions of copies of your book. At her latest press conference she announces that her next novel will focus on the supernatural and no sooner has she made that announcement then strange things start happening to her. The more she writes and the more she thinks on the world of ghosts, the more aggressive these manifestations get until finally she's starting to see something that looks like one of the characters from her work in progress. Seeing as much of what Ting Yin writes is at least partially autobiographical in nature, it would seem that what's happening in her book is now happening to her in real life.
After a dramatic reunion with her ex-boyfriend things start to get even stranger for her. She starts trying to figure out what it is that's causing these visions or manifestations and her investigation takes her to an old apartment building where, after a strange incident in an elevator, she finds herself in an alternate universe. This isn't a happy place – corpses rain down from the sky, the bodies of those who have died by hanging linger in the forests, and the dead rise and walk around tortured and moaning. Here Ting Yin meets an old man (the English subs call him 'Granny') and an eight year old girl who was never given a name. These two are the only help she has in this strange world and thankfully they're willing to try and help her get back to where she originally came from but before that can happen Ting Yin must learn who these two friends are, where they came from, and how she ties into all of this.
At two hours in length Re-Cycle could have been trimmed down a little bit and been a more intense film for it. Likewise, the story is fairly predictable and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out one of the key connections between characters in the film. A little more mystery and some tighter editing would have made Re-Cycle a pretty damn near perfect film but even with those flaws it's still a really interesting horror movie for a few different reasons.
First and foremost is the visuals. The Pang Brothers are known for their cinematic flair and are sometimes criticized for being guilty of the whole 'style over substance' thing – to an extent, that's true. Here, however, by placing the majority of their movie in an alternate universe they can really let loose with the cinematography and the effects work and the set design and the end result is a very, very, very impressive looking effort. Those put off by CGI may have a hard time with things though as it was with Silent Hill even if it's used constantly at least it's used well. There are set pieces in here that are quite haunting from the scene where our heroine finds herself wandering through a decayed and dead looking carnival to the forest where the dead hang from the trees to the sack where aborted fetus' go to grow once they've been eliminated. Ting Yin's entire journey through the underworld is never less than fantastic looking.
The film also works in some interesting Buddhist traditions and philosophies into it's plot structure that, will possibly odd to Westerners unfamiliar with them, make good sense in the context of the story. The offering of paper money to the dead not only provides a convenient ways of escape but also makes for a fitting tribute to those no longer wandering the Earth as physical beings and it works well here just as it does in The Maid. The very title of the film seems to be a reference to the Buddhist teachings of rebirth wherein past experiences shape the path one will take in the next life.
So while it takes a while to really get moving and the one big connection is easy to spot, Re-Cycle never the less makes for really interesting viewing. It's a very creative film with plenty of style and some serious substance to go along with it even if the actual plot itself is quite simple. Angelica Lee is great in the lead, she's pretty, smart and very good as Ying Tin playing sympathetic moments just as well as the more horrifying ones. It's not a perfect film, but it's definitely a very good one and one that is well worth seeking out.
The 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is all over the place for this release. The biggest problem is that the image has not been correctly flagged for progressive scan playback which results in some motion blurring and saw-tooth artifacts whenever there's fast motion on the screen. Adding to the harm this causes is the fact that the black levels range from rich and deep to murky and grey and whenever things get dark, compression artifacts are only too easy to spot. The good news is that the image has only mild grain to complain about in terms of noticeable print damage and that there aren't any edge enhancement problems here. Unfortunately the movie is really dark to begin with and the poor black levels and loss of detail from the authoring problems really don't help matters at all.
You've got your choice of watching the film in Mandarin in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound or DTS 5.1 Surround Sound or in a dubbed Cantonese version available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Optional subtitles are available in English, simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese.
Both of the Mandarin tracks sound great with fantastic use of the surround speakers and the subwoofer to really enhance the viewing experience. Dialogue stays clean and clear throughout and bass response is tight and lively. There aren't any issues with hiss or distortion and the back channels are used really effectively throughout the moving and do a fine job of bringing some of the more atmospheric moments of the film to life. The Mandarin dub is of comparable quality but the dubbing is a distraction. Unfortunately the English subtitles supplied for the feature contain far too many grammatical errors and strange phrasings – this is mildly annoying and mars an otherwise exceptional audio experience.
The biggest and best of the supplements on the first disc in this two disc set is a full length commentary track with the Pang Brothers who are joined by actress Angelica Lee and special effects expert Ko Fai. This commentary, like all the other extra features in this set, is subtitled in English which is a nice touch and a rare one at that for an Asian release. At any rate, this is a pretty active discussion though a lot of time is spent covering the use of CGI which isn't as interesting as it could have been. The Pang's do mention a few neat ideas that they had for a few off the wall camera tricks that were used in the theatrical version that didn't end up happening on the DVD (mainly a switch in aspect ratios for a key scene) and we also learn how the two brothers take to directing as a team by alternating days in the director's chair. Lee and Ko Fai get a few words in edgewise and they cover their involvement in the film but this is definitely the Pang's show here and they dominate the talk. Also included on the first disc are text filmographies for the Pang Brothers and for Angelica Lee and a still gallery.
The second disc in the set starts off with what is called a Making Of Section which starts off with, despite the title, not a making of section but rather a trio of two minute interviews – one a piece with Danny Pang, Oxide Pang and Angelica Lee. This are moderately interesting and they cover the basics of the film but at two minutes each, there isn't a lot of substance to them unfortunately. Once you work your way through those, however, there are two separate documentaries to be fond, one entitled Short Version (3:15) and the other Long Version (6:00). Both contain separate behind the scenes clips and the like and there really isn't any repetition so be sure to take in both of them. They're not mind blowing but some of the behind the scenes footage is actually pretty interesting.
From there we move on to the deleted scenes. An even half a dozen have been included here and despite the fact that the movie runs a bit long, it would have been interesting to see how the film would have played had these been put back into the finished product. The firs three scenes focus on the ghostly activity in Ting Yin's apartment, two more show us different aspects of the underworld while the sixth and final scene is a completely new world that doesn't actually appear in the movie at all. If you enjoyed the movie, definitely take the time to go through these as they paint an interesting picture of 'what could have been.' Also included here are nine Extra CGI Shots which are, as you could probably guess, quick snippets of computer generated graphics that show how computers were used to create the different levels of the world through which Ting Yin travels in the movie.
Up next is a section called Highlights that has a bunch of separate featurettes in it starting with the Re-Cycle Q&A wherein the Pang Brothers are joined by Ms. Lee on stage where the field questions about the film from some very knowledgeable audience members who may or may not be students. This allows for some interesting discussion about the various themes in the movie as well as some of the techniques employed in creating it. The Gala Premiere featurette is just that – footage from the press conference that the cast and crew held before the film was screened for the first time in front of an audience. The One Week Gross Celebration Party segment is a really hokey publicity ploy/party that celebrates the box office success of the film.
A nice still gallery of production art rounds out the supplements on the second disc. Both discs feature animated menus and of course, the feature disc has chapter stops included for the movie.
The packaging for this release is also quite impressive and therefore worth noting. The discs come in a magnetic locking book that holds both discs on separate pages. Inside there are two different booklets both of which reproduce various different pieces of promotional art and conceptual art for the movie.
It's a shame that the transfer on this release is botched as, despite a few flaws, Re-Cycle is a really interesting and pretty effective horror film. It's hard to say how well it will work for Western audiences but anyone with an interest in Asian horror and an open mind in terms of different theologies and religions should give this one a look. If the more cerebral aspects don't do it for you, the horror set pieces and wild locations and disturbing imagery probably will. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.