Thursday, 5 October 2006

Silk 鬼丝 (2006)

Waiter, there's a ghost in her soup!

When one attempts an "sci-fi horror" movie that attempts to reinvent aspects of supernatural oldies, there had better be a compelling reason. Maybe it makes for a good action thriller, like Blade, The Ghostbusters, or Underworld. Maybe it makes for a social commentary on modern life and trends, like Pulse, Kairo, or The Ring. But always, there is a coherent re-examination of why ghosts (or vampires, werewolves and the like) exist, and why they exist - even if there isn’t an explicit explanation (see The Sixth Sense).

Flush with Hong Kong money and actors from Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, Su Chao-pin’s sophomore directorial effort is a complete letdown. Or perhaps, the combination practically guarantees the failure of the effort. With a mult-ethnic cast, the only thing worse than actors dubbed over in a uniform Mandarin accent is actors speaking in a thousand mangled accents of Mandarin (or Cantonese, for the Hong Kong release of the film). That was what I thought before I entered the cinema yesterday, but I have since learnt to be more imaginative than that, because characters in Silk switch effortlessly from impeccable Mandarin to impeccable Japanese and back again, for no apparent reason. If the ghost child could speak as well, I suppose it would alternate between Japanese and Mandarin. For no apparent reason.

And reason is king, if you claim to have produced a sci-fi horror. Your pseudo-scientific explanation of ghosts needs to be not just coherent, but necessary. The audience should not think that yes, that’s an interesting and logical retelling of ghosts, but it feels as though the rules were pulled out arbitrarily from thin air just for this movie. Never mind that, but half way through the movie, I felt that more than half of the scientific babble had no relation to the supernatural elements in Silk. How on earth would the studies of a Japanese scientist pioneering a form of material that could enable antigravity be related to a Ghostbusters style hunt for the supernatural? Why does the director finally give up the scientific bent of the movie – despite the very anaemic attempts at pseudoscience – more than half way through? Are ghosts mostly insensate manifestations of psychic energy re-enacting their daily routines, or do ghosts have a sophisticated mind and desires of their own? Are ghosts formed through loads of benevolent love and attachment to loved ones, or do they exist to kill random strangers on the street? The director can’t decide, and we don’t care.

It’s not just the premise and the scriptwriting that are muddleheaded, though. The casting is extremely confused, with Barbie Hsu pouting meaningfully at the camera and their male co-stars, as if they have, had, or will have some interesting relationships – but gets killed off as the first victim of the ghost less than half-way through the picture.

Clearly, the Asian horror genre has peaked and is now on a steady downhill decline. This actually compares poorly to the trashy and mindless reruns of 1980s and early 1990s Hong Kong horror flicks that TCS 8 shows every now and then on late nights. In 20 years’ time, you might be so bored that you’d watch this on television on a late night, then complain that this movie makes no sense, and runs too long for old and cheaply-produced Hong Kong horror flicks.

First published at incinemas on 12 October 2006

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