Fantasia Dispatch -- Diary (Mon Seung)

Contributing Writer; Toronto, Canada (@triflic)


Danny and Oxide Pang have been going backwards since their widely embraced two-punch of Bangkok Dangerous and The Eye. This is likely due to them churning out a film every year collectively as The Pang Brothers, and managing a solo film (often each of them) on top of that. That they both have a gifted visual style is not in dispute, but their combined diluted CV and the fact that they are often marketed as a brand is doing them no favours. The problem lies with undercooked screenplays combined the handicap of their less than perfect storytelling abilities. Their solo efforts often border on unwatchable, although Oxides work is a bit better. (Danny is more suited as the editor). Diary is an Oxide solo effort so going in there was some hope, but it may be a good time now to mention that the translation of the Chinese title (Mon Seung) is 'wishful thinking'.

The film is not without some strengths though, and the overall failure of the film is that the middle section of the film really is gripping stuff which promises a knockout of a conclusion that is most definitely not delivered.

The opening spends a number of silent minutes alone with Winnie, who is played by a waifish Charlene Choi. (She stretches her acting chops beyond her previous pop image with some surprising agility). She cooks an elaborate dinner for her boyfriend, Seth (Shawn Yue), chopping with such intensity intercut with images of her making home-made dolls. These are two signs, when encountered in a horror flick of pretty much any country that our girl is not the most stable brick in the stack. Not only does she come to the realization Seth is not coming home, but that he has packed up all of his stuff and moved out when she was not looking. Winnie tries to track him down at work over the next few weeks and ends up meeting Seth's doppleganger Ray (also Yue) by a chance glance. Ray is a little wary initially, but being of a nice sensitive persuasion decides to start dating Winnie. Ray unwisely ends up sticking around even though Winnie often refers to him as Seth and even offers him a career makeover based on Seth's previous successes and failures. Just when it looks like Oxide Pang may be going for Vertigo by way of Audition, the film starts throwing out some pretty wild visual non-sequiturs. Special effect non-sense aside, the unusual editing kicks some real adrenaline into the picture making by making those that have followed the off kilter drama up to this point seriously begin to reevaluate exactly what has happened.

Diary is actually like one of those plastic puzzles where you slide around the little squares to assemble a picture complete except for the hole. Oxide Pang wishes to present the story as the mixed up puzzle (to the point where his director title-card is slammed in about the 45 minute mark or so). Thus a previous flaw in the Pangs' narrative skills is actually morphed into a sort of strength. The inclusion of fanciful but maddeningly inconsistent title cards that just drop out of the film at some point may be pushing things a bit as they amount to little. And the mix of visual styles (the predominant one seems directly lifted out of the Christopher Doyle playbook -- see the vastly superior Dumplings for similar food-prep photography) is par for the course. An unabashed genre exercise with the subtextual depth of a puddle, Diary pulls out the psychological condition exposition tropes more at home in grade Z science fiction. When Oxide and company decide to fill in the hole (of their dollar store puzzle) it is nothing short of spectacular how efficiently they wreck effort that came previously. If the film were aiming for some sort of parody level, it could not have done much better in wrapping up events in such a silly manner.

I had hoped that after the solid, if flawed Re-Cycle, that the Pangs (or at least Oxide) could get over their continually sliding oeuvre. Currently Oxide (and Danny) are remaking Bangkok Dangerous for American audiences (Nicholas Cage! Oi!) Although I always like elements of their work, it is probably time to start skipping their pictures for a while until they re-charge their batteries and tighten up their screenplays.

Trailer (Embedded Flash)

Screen Anarchy logo
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.

More about Diary

Around the Internet