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Double Vision

Columbia/Tri-Star // R // August 5, 2003
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted July 27, 2003 | E-mail the Author

Double Vision (2002) is a Taiwanese supernatural thriller that is a clear attempt to tap into the more modern international market much in the same way you can look at films like Korea's Shiri or Hong Kong's Gen X Cops. With a style and tone that screams Se7en or Silence of the Lambs, foreign savvy viewers will no doubt be reminded of other creepy cop chasing weird serial killer inspired imports like Crimson Rivers or Tell Me Something.

Taipei. A bizarre series of deaths begin to occur: A businessman found dead in his 14th floor office, yet he is frozen solid and all the evidence points to his having drowned in icy waters. A politicians mistress is found dead, her body shows signs of being apparently engulfed in flames yet her apartment is spotless. And, a priest is found disemboweled, his intestines removed, cleaned, and then put back in with no apparent struggle. The only connection the police can find is a mysterious mold on the victims brains, and the puzzled detectives are forced to ask for outside help and turn to the FBI.

Huo-tu (Tony Lueng, The Lover, Dragon Inn, Prison on Fire) is a sullen Foreign Affairs captain. Having exposed some corruption within his police district years earlier, that scandal has now left his career in tatters and his marriage on the brink of divorce. Since detectives are already skeptical about a foreigners involvement, the already ostracized and English speaking Huo-tu is the perfect candidate to escort FBI liaison Kevin Richter (David Morse, Indian Runner, Dancer in the Dark, Green Mile).

Eventually the reluctant, troubled duo begin to uncover more evidence in the peculiar case. Pellets shot into the victims rooms. An unknown from of mite. High level s of dopamine in the brain. And, some Taoist carvings that belong to a long thought dead radical sect that believed in a process of sacrifices that could lead to immortality.

Not anything new in terms of plot or characterizations, nevertheless Double Vision is a thriller that succeeds in characters, direction, and production design but falters in its plotting, which becomes a bit forced and befuddled in its supernatural serial killing cult leanings. It reminds me a lot of Crimson Rivers, in that the films both share the same plusses and minuses. Both are entertaining and feature good performances by the main actors, some effective scares, and elegant direction, but come up short when it comes to the murderous parts of the plot and collapse into weak finales.

The cross culture cops thing has been done before, probably most memorably in Ridley Scott's Black Rain. Lueng and Morse are both good actors (Hell, I cannot think of one performance by David Morse that wasn't solid) and manage to play out some good scenes despite offering no real variation on their formulaic characters. Morse is probably the most easygoing, the standard hard-bitten, science driven profiler and has some nice fish out of water moments like trying to say "Thank you" but instead saying "Thank your mother." Unfortunately the convoluted handling of Lueng's characters back story (the corruption he uncovered was his own cousin, who freaked out and took Lueng's daughter hostage, nearly killing her and rendering her mute- whew') doesn't help him much. Still, the awkward moments between the two, complete with conflicts of philosophy and that irksome language barrier, do make them an engaging duo.

The most surprising thing I found was that having seen director Kuo-fu Chen's previous film, The Personals, you wouldn't think him capable of a thriller. The two films couldn't be more different. One a light romantic comedy, the other a thriller. Even in terms of style, one had a low budget looseness while the other has a X-Files look and slickness. He also served as writer on the film and while he initially attempts to meld some "is it real or not real?" real questions about the killings, it then clearly leans in one direction, the fantastic, which makes viewers have to take a big leap in believability. Also, unlike, lets say Se7en, there is no steadfast killer that we follow or glimpse, but a large faceless group and then... well, I wont ruin it. Even if all of its story isn't successful, the tale unfolds with some twists and turns in the finale, some of which are slap in the face unexpected and some of which are just confounding.

The DVD: Columbia Tristar. Unfortunately, this is the 110 minute rated version of the film. It runs 113 minutes long in its uncut form.

Picture: Anamorphic Letterbox. Very, very much photographed in the mold of what is quickly becoming known in cinema as "The David Fincher Look". The cinematography is imbued with dark hues, grays and blues, and some intentional graininess. There was a little edge enhancement present on some of the background details. Minor, but worth noting. I felt the sharpness and contrast could have been a bit better in certain scenes, but maybe it was more intentional roughness to add to the mood. Overall a nice image transfer that probably won't illicit any grumbles.

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Stereo, Chinese, English, French, or Portuguese audio with optional yellow English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese subtitles. Sound is always important in your creepy thriller. Dialogue is clear and the subs are fine. Neat little ambient noise in the background. Natural sound is put to good use as well, like in a scene that suddenly cuts to a rainy street- the foley crew manage to make the rain sound unsettling. There isn't a wealth of stereo panning, but what is there is put to good use. Music score is a bit uneven, effective in the horror scenes but tepid in the lightweight or dramatic moments.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Trailers for Double Vision, Bad Boys 2, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie and So Close.

Conclusion: Entertaining? Yes. Entirely applaudable? No. But, still easily worth a late-night viewing. While the transfer is good in terms of image and sound, it is another of Columbia's pricey barebones ventures. Some extras and the film being uncut would have sold me on giving it a recommendation, but as it is, I'd say for your average/budget conscious DVD buyer it is better reserved as a rental. Import capable fans will want to note that there is a roughly $30 R3 edition containing two versions of the film (R-rated and uncut).

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