Image // R // $35.98 // September 30, 2008
Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 12, 2008
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Ting-Yin (Angelica Lee) has
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carved out a name for herself by penning a series of sweeping and at least somewhat autobiographical romance novels. With the first of those having been adapted into a feature film, she feels it's time to attack a different genre. All she has for her first stab at horror, though, are a title and a garbage can full of quickly discarded ideas. Ting-Yin is warned in a press conference that writing about ghosts can open a doorway for them into our world, and it doesn't seem to matter that virtually everything she's jotted down lay in crumpled balls next to her desk. She's soon plagued by an onslaught of phone calls with some sort of odd screeching on the other end, and she catches fleeting glimpses of a shadowy figure that seems to be skulking around her apartment.

Life isn't all that more cheerful outside those four walls. The lover that had tossed their starcrossed romance aside eight long years ago is trying to claw his way back into Ting-Yin's heart, and as she struggles with that, she finds herself transported into a series of increasingly bizarre dimensions -- worlds created by discarded ideas, empty promises, forgotten loves, and long-neglected books and childhood toys. With a young girl (Zeng Qi Qi) guiding the way, Ting-Yin learns that her only hope of returning home is to trudge through a series of these dimensions, each of which is anchored around something she's long since forgotten. The deeper into these worlds she immerses herself, the more dangerous they become, swarming with armies of the undead.

This may look somewhat familiar at first glance -- the Pang Brothers directing Angelica Lee as she's tormented in her apartment by some sort of spirit -- but the writer/directors aren't just recycling what they'd accomplished with The Eye several years earlier. I wouldn't even characterize Re-Cycle as a horror movie, despite the jolts that pepper the first act and the armies of menacing ghosts throughout the rest of the film. It's much more of a dreamlike fantasy, set against the backdrop of a barren wasteland with floating mountains soaring overhead, a crumbling city of staircases that look like M.C. Escher by way of David Fincher, a stone bridge lit by floating blue flames as zombified corpses trudge across, and, among others, a womb-like tunnel with mutated fetuses dangling down like cherries. This is a movie that's much more fascinated by tone, atmosphere, and the permanence of long-ignored loves, lives,
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and ideas than jump scares.

In the disc's extras, the Pangs liken the structure of Re-Cycle to a video game, and Ting-Yin is essentially trying to navigate one level after another in the hopes of conquering the game...of returning to some semblance of a normal life. There's even a timer that's continually ticking down as each world is eventually engulfed by a world-ravaging 'recycle effect' that dissolves and destroys everything in sight. Just as many video games emphasize bleeding-edge graphics over gameplay, Re-Cycle does place an intensely heavy emphasis on its sprawling and accomplished visual effects work. This seems to complement the film's approach well enough, though; the scale and scope of the stylized visuals leave Re-Cycle closely resembling a vivid dream, and the stories woven throughout my dreams, at least, can be scattershot and somewhat disconnected as well. The Pang Brothers weave throughout Re-Cycle a couple of running threads that aren't made entirely clear until the final moments of the movie, and one of those revelations is sure to spark heated debate in some circles.

Re-Cycle is a jaw-droppingly beautiful fantasy about love and neglect, defined by the Pang Brothers' keen visual eye and an outstanding lead performance by Angelica Lee. I can't say that I was enthralled with the core of the story, exactly, but this is a movie that I get the impression will reveal more and more hidden layers with each viewing, and I'm especially eager to give it another look with the connective threads between its many dimensions still fresh in my mind. Recommended.

Video: Like most of the Pang Brothers' films, Re-Cycle has an intensely stylized look. Virtually every last frame of the film is heavily tinted, with each section drenched in one color or another. Hong Kong is predominately cold and desaturated, and the dimensions of abandonment are cast in a sunbaked gold, a milky, diffused red, and a subdued green, among others. A gritty texture is visible throughout the film, although under particularly low light, this starts to look less like traditional film grain and more like noise. Detail and clarity are both very strong, and the extensive visual effects work holds up to the scrutiny of 1080p.

Black levels tend to be extremely weak, though, and much of the shadow detail remains crushed in those smears of an anemic gray. This leaves the image looking rather flat and lifeless, although I do suspect that this was a deliberate stylistic choice. The opening titles as well as fades to black are still deep and inky, and the lush, vibrant excerpt
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shown of a movie based on one of Ting-Yin's novels boasts an outstanding level of depth and dimensionality. I'd suggest going into Re-Cycle knowing that it isn't conventional home theater eye candy, but this is a visually striking film, and the crispness and detail benefit greatly from the additional resolution that Blu-ray has to offer.

Re-Cycle is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and the video has been encoded with AVC.

Audio: Re-Cycle's original Cantonese soundtrack is offered in both traditional Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. It's a rich, full-bodied soundtrack, backed by a score with a remarkably resonant low-end. The sound design fleshes out an unsettling atmosphere -- ominous tones and footsteps skittering from one speaker to the next, swirling voices, creaking wood and metal in a dimension of abandoned ideas, and the roar of the recycle event as it devours entire worlds. The mix opens up to reflect the scale of the armies of the undead that swell with each dimension Ting-Yin steps into, and some stretches -- particularly a parade of lifeless bodies plummeting to the ground like hail -- wouldn't be nearly as unsettling as they are without this six-channel sound design. This is a wonderful soundtrack, and it's appreciated that Image went to the effort of ensuring it'd be presented in a lossless format.

Strangely, at least one of the actors looks like his lines have all been clumsily looped; the lip movements of Ting-Yin's former lover are slightly out of sync with the actual dialogue. I didn't notice this with any of the other actors in the film. Also, it's frustrating that the only English subtitles are captioned for the deaf and hard of hearing. There really should've been a second subtitle stream; as it is now, the track is riddled with distracting messages like "[GEARS WHIRRING]", "[BEEPS]", and "[TYPING]". Owners of constant image height projection rigs should note that the subtitles do spill over into the letterboxing bars. Subtitles are also offered in Spanish, and there are no dubbed soundtracks this time around.

Extras: Re-Cycle features the same set of extras as Image's DVD release, and these six features are presented again in standard definition.

"Making of Re-Cycle" (16 min.) compiles a handful of short interviews, touching on how the film predominately expresses its story through its visuals, the daunting scale of the digital effects work and the challenges it presented for the cast and crew alike, and what the movie's title is meant to represent. Interviews
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are also the central focus of two of the disc's other extras. A Q&A session (8 min.) fields questions about the use of color to distinguish each setting, the emotional impact the Pang Brothers aimed for, what some of the dreamlike backdrops are meant to represent, and the relationship that was struck between Angelica Lee and young Zeng Qi Qi during the shoot. Footage from the film's premiere in Hong Kong and celebrations of its colossal success (16 min.) tend to have more of a lighter, more promotional bent, chatting about whether or not the cast was scared during the shoot and what the most difficult aspect of putting the film together must've been.

Also included are nine minutes' worth of deleted scenes. The bulk of them are brief extensions to the first act in and around Ting-Yin's apartment, including one attempt at snapping a picture of an elusive spirit with a camera phone. Only the final scene, which is set against the backdrop of a world of abandoned photographs, features any dialogue. A minute and a half montage runs through the different stages of some of the effects work, from the raw green screen on the set to unpainted models to fully polished renders. A trailer -- complete with English voiceover -- for the movie's American release rounds out the extras.

Conclusion: Re-Cycle is a hauntingly beautiful fantasy, striking an unusual but engaging balance between In the Mouth of Madness, What Dreams May Come, and flourishes from some of the Pang Brothers' other ghostly horror movies. I think it's better viewed as an experience rather than any sort of coherent story, but Re-Cycle is a movie that's well-worth discovering on Blu-ray. Recommended.

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