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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Ab-Normal Beauty
Ab-Normal Beauty
Tartan Video // Unrated // December 26, 2005
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted December 27, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Pang Brothers (Bangkok Dangerous, The Eye 1&2) deliver another offering into the bloated Asian horror cannon. Yes, it's a genre that has stretched itself pretty thin, but the Pang's are at least a pair who always deliver stylistically and are more assured than other bargain barrel guys making cut and paste Asian spookfests.

The principle characters are Jin, a young artist/photographer, and her jealous/protective lover Jas. The pair are, oddly enough, played by Race and Rosanne Wong, sisters who are the Cantopop duo 2Rs. Now that is strange casting: two sisters as lesbian lovers. Imagine the American remake possibilities with the Olsen twins. No, don't think about that, it is too horrible. Anyway, it is strange bit of stunt casting that doesn't really work because casting two sisters as lovers immediately robs the pair of any sexual chemistry or intimacy. As a result, the whole idea of them being a couple is only suggested and the two might as well have been cast as close friends.

So, Jin stumbles upon a highway accident and her natural inclination as a photographer is to start snapping away at the scene. Somehow this event sparks a trigger in Jin and she is haunted by morbid hallucinations, flashbacks of abuse she suffered while a child, and she becomes obsessed with capturing images of death. Despite the intervention of friends and lovers, she spirals further out of control and starts to fear she's getting a case of the crazies. She finally snaps and is rescued from the edge of madness.

And then a serial killer starts sending her morbid mail and videos.

Yep, it is one of those twist films. For nearly an hour it seems to be just a quirky drama about a death obsessed artist, then a serial killer shows up. It is very strange. Since we are only given two main characters, Jin and Jas, two peripheral characters, and the rest just background folks, the whole mystery angle of who the killer is becomes a total dud. The final section of the film is almost a completely different animal. Some killer knows her, has been stalking her, and just as she starts getting healthy he mails her his own death and torture 8X10's and grainy home videos, edited and shot like a NIN number, where he bludgeons people to death.

The central conceit of the 2/3rds section of the film, that somehow her morbid obsessions are unhealthy, driving her insane, and connected to a paper thin, seemingly unrelated backstory of being sexually abused as a child, quite frankly is a little insulting. And, I mean personally insulting. As a kid, I remember going to the downtown library with my dad and stumbling on a book of crime scene photos by Weegee. That probably is what sparked my teenage flirtation with being a crime scene photographer, an art that has all but died thanks to the digital age and the evolution of photography becoming a secondary skill for forensics investigators. Still, to this day, I buy crime scene photo books and other morose works like the photographs of Joel Peter Witkin, an artist that Jin picks up. And, you know what, no one touched my butthole, and my childhood was pretty damn near rosy.

I know, I know, it is just a horror movie. But, its' always bothered me when culture frowns upon an interest in mortality. Yes, it is place most people don't want to go, however death and decay, be it timely or untimely, is part of the natural way of things. No doubt, if somebody's already got a screw loose they'll use morbid imagery to feed their twisted psyche, but the way judgmental films like Ab-normal Beauty approaches it, you are just plain weird for having an interest or appreciation for anything that explores death. That simply is not true.

So, it is safe to say that Ab-normal Beauty is not very well-realized. The plot switcheroo is interesting because the film did seem like it had nowhere to go other than some great leap, however you wish it was mapped out a little better, less hokey, derivative, and more suspenseful. Honestly, do we need another killer who wears an S&m mask, really? But, while their scriptwriting skills are spotty, I'll be damned if those Pang Bros don't know how to pace a flick and throw in some eye pleasing shots. Despite all my constant grumbles, I was still pretty entertained.

The DVD: TARTAN

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Tartan does a solid job. The Pangs (sounds like a riot girrrl band name) are known for their visuals and Ab-normal Beauty has a very great look. Lots of striking colors, especially reds, and there is no problem with color bleeding or severe chroma noise. Sharpness and contrast are also in good form. The film is a tad grainy but it seems to be a stylistic choice rather than a spotty, worn print.

Sound: Dolby Digital DTS, 5.1, or 2.0 Channels, Cantonese language with optional English or Spanish subtitles. Again, a very solid presentation. The only real weak spot is in the dialogue where certain scenes have some low level recording. The score and atmosphere fx are very strong, good bass response, and pounding music and shock fx add to the drama.

Extras: Photo Gallery.— Original Theatrical Trailer, plus more Tartan release trailers.— "Making Of" Featurette (10:54).— Deleted Scenes (7:46).

The "Making Of" is pretty standard stuff. The deleted scenes are mostly marginal, incidental bits, including a very ill-advised and thankfully cut scene where the girl duo does a dance routine in Jin's darkroom.

Conclusion: I kinda' hate to say it but, while the story is a complete mess, I was entertained by Ab-normal Beauty simply because it was aesthetically pleasing and well-edited. But, it is definitely a film I doubt I'll be rewatching anytime soon. The DVD offers a very decent presentation and is worth a rental for Asian horror fans.

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