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Diary
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by Jay Seaver

"Descents into madness must be recorded."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Winnie Leung is not well.

You can tell just by looking at her. She's uncomfortably thin, her hair covers her face, and she appears generally fragile. And that's before her phone calls to Seth Lau escalate from lonely to upset to "why have you taken your possessions?" over the film's first three minutes. The break-up has crushed her, and she stays in her dark apartment, carving puppets, writing in her diary, and occasionally talking to her friend Yvonne (Isabella Leong). It's on Yvonne's advice that she goes to confront Seth and winds up meeting Ray Tam (Shawn Yue), who happens to be a dead ringer for Seth. Ray's nice, but "reminds me of my ex-boyfriend" is probably not the greatest basis for a relationship.

The films Oxide Pang has made with his brother Danny have tended toward a supernatural explanation for their horrors, but Winnie's precarious mental state is quite enough to make anyone nervous in this case. That doesn't keep Pang from breaking out some unearthly visuals. The fantastical images Winnie sees are nicely off-putting, though not necessarily looking to make the audience jump. The scattered special effect bits also tend to echo the genuinely creepy vibe of the production design, especially of Winnie's apartment; it never seems to get enough light and has hand-carved marionettes scattered throughout as a blatant attempt for Winnie to make herself feel less lonely.

It looks at first like we may never get out of that place, but we do, and the look of everything changes. Winnie's cosmetics-counter job is almost drowned in the pure white that Pang uses for other locations, and Winnie cleans up, but her eyes are even more vacant out there; she's just covering up her loneliness. Charlene Choi's body language says all it needs to, but there's plenty of heartbreak and self-doubt in her voice, too. It's a remarkably sympathetic performance that wouldn't be particularly out of place in a straight drama.

Which this is not. Pang isn't going for subtlety here, and from the very beginning will lean hard on loud musical cues to make sure that the audience realizes that scenes of Winnie doing everyday things are More Ominous Than They Appear. It's done consistently enough not to sound funny when it comes up - it's the voice-over that educates the audience about paranoia and schizophrenia that seems like a little too much. He also gets very revelation-happy toward the end: There's not just the regular montage of previous scenes from a less subjective perspective, to show you what really happened, but the film keeps going on after that with a couple more twists that, while admittedly adding something to the story, are done in a rather showy manner and come precariously close to losing the audience.

That doesn't take away from Charlene Choi's performance, though, and Pang's got enough style to forgive his tendency toward excess.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16273&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/10/07 22:30:29
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2007 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Oxide Pang

Written by
  Oxide Pang
  Thomas Pang

Cast
  Charlene Choi
  Isabella Leong
  Shawn Yu



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