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Tartan Video // Unrated // June 12, 2007
List Price: $22.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted June 21, 2007 | E-mail the Author
Sometimes when you try and do two things at once, you fumble each activity and end up doing both an injustice. Guisi aka Silk, a Chinese action / horror flick from director Chao-Pin Su, suffers from such a deficiency. Instead of running far away from the pack with originality in breadth and storyline originality, Silk stumbles over its own attempts at overachievement a bit and suffers from a degrading case of identity confusion.

The Film:

Tung (Chen Chang) struggles to juggle many obstacles at once. He stretches himself thin worrying stringently about his dying mother and a relationship with an attractive florist - all the while trying to keep up with his specialized lip-reading law enforcement job. Contemplating death and absolutism plagues his mind, though he doesn't make his thoughts heard. His strife with death comes out when he visits his aging mother, wondering if each of the two are holding on too tight.

Death, however, would be the pragmatic catalyst that would lead a paranormal research team led by Hashimoto (Yosuke Eguchi) to invite Tung to their location for a special assignment. Held up in a dilapidated home with cameras and other spooky equipment focused onto a specific room, this research assistant gives Tung a little prep work before allowing him to glance through a glass pane looking into that room. Settling before Tung's eyes is a young boy, pale blue and intangible. It's within this boy, who mutters either inaudibly or silently, that Tung must utilize his talents to figure out what he's saying and where he wishes to disappear to late in the afternoon each day. However, the question remains a mystery: what does this have to do with a mystical cube called the Menger Sponge that Hashimoto holds in his possession - a cube that can float on command and absorb the essence of a specter at will?

Much like the cube Hashimoto holds, this simple yet jointed and multi-layered narrative can undoubtedly suck you in. The obvious mystery behind the sulking, imprisoned boy grows moderately intriguing, as does the underlying mystique behind Hashimoto's actions. However, Silk could take a page or two from Guillermo Del Toro's superior Devil's Backbone for some attachment advice. We don't really share any strong affinity with the young boy. He remains a mysterious object throughout most of the film without any revelatory history. Care and intrigue for the already existent history of the haunting child slips into our conscience within Del Toro's flick. Silk, however, leaves the child's motives to push forward an inexplicable mystery in hopes that it could make the audience care more.

Minor stumbling blocks aside, the real issue within Silk is this integration of an aggressive, action-based demeanor. Such a creepy story should grasp an equally smooth and subtly terrifying mood. Instead, the accompanied camerawork and score choices lend a rapid, advancing tone to Silk. Within the first few scenes, it's a lot like deciding to hop on one of those rotary walking belts at the airport: once you step on that hastened stretch, no matter how you try and stand still to enjoy anything the pace keeps moving much like the initial plunge forward. And, quite honestly, it's the quieter moments with the serviceably sharp performances from the lead and supporting cast that make the strong story fuming underneath Silk much more intriguing. Instead, this rapid movement and a series of poorly executed visual effects drain a bit of the mounting ambiance quickly from its able-bodied core.

What impressed me about Silk, however, was its terrific integration with metaphysical and scientific ideas into the ghastly narrative. It's strange; though the film doesn't hit into full throttle with the scares or the action either one, it manages to ensnare both of these to a moderate degree while injecting peculiarly intriguing discussions about matter, stability, and the essence of silk. This is a film that's far from perfect, and I mean that in retrospective focus on what that film in particular could be. Silk, even with a few blemishes, is a creepy and tense horror adventure that delivers multiple inklings of segmented, concealed quality instead of bringing together a full-blown package.

The DVD:

Tartan Video has released Silk in your typical Tartan Asia Extreme package we've all grown to love. Encapsulated in a snazzy little slipcover replicating the coverart, this DVD sports well-designed disc art and a nice fold-out chapter listing.

The Video:

Presented in an anamorphic widescreen image, Silk boasts some very green and blue cinematography. Many of the subdued, lush shades from the palette pop and sizzle in quality fashion. There were some typical instances of digital noise and a speckle here and there, but in general this is a good looking picture. All the colors feel suppressed, but in an intentionally cold fashion. Though the film's camerawork got the job done, the special effects weren't especially to shelf. These scenes, and all their flaws, showed through well in the image. It's not an impressive transfer, but it certainly displays the source material in a very sharp, engaging light.

The Audio:

As per Tartan's usual repertoire, Silk comes equipped with a nice Mandarin 5.1 DTS audio presentation. And, as usual, that track delivers well. It's not as strong as I would imagine for this film, but what's provided actually sounds great. Most engaging is the score. Though it didn't feel quite analogous to the story itself, Silk's rapid-fire and tense soundtrack thumped and tumbled in giddy fashion through the film. Gunshots and other activity sounded pretty darn good. The voice levels were pretty enveloping and crisp. Though the LFE channel was used adequately, it seems like the rear channels didn't see very much activity at all. It was sporadic; a car zipping by sent activity, but sometimes gunshots did not. It's a mixed bag, but overall the sound quality did an admirable job. Audio is also available Mandarin Dolby 5.1 and 2.0.

The Subtitles:

There is a full scene in English at the start of the film. When you set English subtitles as the default, this entire sequence is also subtitled. In general, the grammatical quality is probably around 97-98% on spot, only with a few punctuation and word choice problems. Subtitles are available in optional English and Spanish languages.

The Extras:

A generic Making Of Silk featurette takes around 32 minutes out to chat up and discuss the little eccentricities of the film with the cast. Ranging from the language barrier with the Japanese actor Eguchi to the modeling effects and body composition of the victims, it's standard fair that stays pretty interesting throughout.

Director Chao-Pin Su's Alternate Ending sports a pensive, more peculiar conclusion that's liable to leave you scratching your head. With the tone of the film, the ending does seem to throw the smooth balance of elements out of whack. It's an interesting conclusion that would work with a more atmospheric, deliberately-paced film.

Slowly piecing together the perfect, ambient scene can be hard - as these Outtakes show. Some of the mildly disgruntled facial expressions of the actors as take after rolls through on one scene are entertaining.

It's a shame some of these Deleted Scenes didn't make the final cut of the film, because they give some more substantial character development to some of the characters, especially Hashimoto. Though, granted, the scenes needed a good bit more polish, in context they fleshed out the material pretty well.

An Original Trailer is included that doesn't reveal too much of the film in its runtime. It'd be a safe watch before the flick.

Rounding out the special features are some enjoyable previews for current Tartan Releases for Shutter (highly recommended), Ghost, Dorm, Maid, Heirloom, and Natural City.


Final Thoughts:

Silk had my hopes high for a very strong flick. It delivered, but to a very subdued and confusing degree. To tackle both horror and action in one film effectively, you've got to find that steadfast balance between elements that Silk didn't fully ensnare. However, though not faultless, Silk gathers together enough spurts of fright, tension, and unique scientific discussion definitely worth the watch. It could've been better, but still garnishes a moderate Recommendation for the quality of the disc and the throttled entertainment value within.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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