Abnormal Beauty
Hong Kong 2004
Directed by Oxide Pang.

Jiney (Race) and her girlfriend Jasmine (Rosanne) are art students into photography. But then Jin takes a picture of a dead body and becomes obsessed with death, snapping pictures of dead animals, brooding, contemplating suicide, and having traumatic memories of her childhood. Come to think of it, she basically starts behaving like pretty much all the girls I dated back in High School. Yes, the art department is a pretty seriously melodramatic place. She goes off the deep end and it's up to Jas to try and reel her back, while someone, somehow, starts going to far and stops photographing death, and starts creating some.

Danny and Oxide Pang are a well known pair of brothers who write, direct, and edit movies in Thailand and Hong Kong. Their biggest hits are the supernatural suspense thrillers The Eye and The Eye 2. This time around, though, they went their separate ways, and each came back with a finished movie, and both movies were released in November, 2004, one just two weeks after the other. Danny Pang directed Leave Me Alone, Oxide Pang directed ABNORMAL BEAUTY.

What is interesting about these two movies is that they are connected, and similar in many ways, yet strikingly different in other ways. We learn, for instance, that Danny Pang on his own seems to lean towards light hearted comedy, while Oxide Pang (who directed this film) tends more towards the darker side. They balance each other well.

Both films deal with homosexuality and with siblings. In Leave Me Alone, Ekin Cheng plays two identical twin brothers, one of whom is gay, the other of whom is straight. In ABNORMAL BEAUTY, real-life sisters Race and Rosanne, the Singapore pop group 2R, play lesbian lovers (obviously, and much to everyone's relief, theirs is a very platonic love on screen).

Tying the two films even closer together is the fact that they share a catalyst: a car accident. And in fact, it is the same car accident. One of the brothers (in Leave Me Alone) takes his brother's car out for a spin and accidentally kills a pedestrian and falls into a coma, kicking off a whole stream of switched identities and problems. In ABNORMAL BEAUTY, Jin is nearby when the accident occurs, and sees the dead pedestrian. She begins snapping photos of the dead body, which kicks off her obsession and the events in this film. The characters and situations in the two films do not interrelate in any other way, but using the same catalyst to launch both films is inspired and really makes them a collector's set -- you could hardly have one without the other. Or at least, you shouldn't.

I greatly enjoyed the two-thirds of this film, in which the stakes were high but the characters greatly believable. Toward the end, things start to get out of control, and it is shockingly violent and completely mesmerizing. Still, I started to feel as though maybe I had seen all of it before and it didn't feel quite as inspired as what had gone before. Basements with chains hanging down are pretty tired. But since ABNORMAL BEAUTY spent plenty of time developing the characters and the situation, one still feels emotionally involved enough to want to see it through to the bitter end.

2R is often called the "TWINS of Singapore." But THE TWINS never gave us the lesbian couple storyline (they aren't really sisters, so they could actually kiss each other, which would be a big benefit), for which I blame their agents, among others. The TWINS have been active in the movie business for years and years now, and it was only this year that one of them (Gillian Cheung) had a breakthrough performance (in Beyond our Ken). Race and Rosanne are pretty much there already. From an acting standpoint, they have already beaten the Twins. Imagine if they can really sing, too! Then what would the Twins do? Take singing lessons? Acting lessons? Hey, maybe a little competition will do everyone some good!

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on March 02, 2005.

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