Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/04/07 09:58:55

"A ghost story with sci-fi attitude."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2007 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: The line between science fiction and fantasy is often blurred, especially in film - many science fiction fans will tell you that most sci-fi is really just fantasy with energy beings instead of ghosts, lightsabers instead of swords, psychics instead of seers. "Silk" is in some ways like that, but in some ways the opposite - though it is unabashedly a ghost story, it thinks and acts like sci-fi much of the time.

Silk posits that ghosts exist, and can be seen, but are too dim for the eye to see. Enter Professor Hashimoto (Yosuke Eguchi), who has built a fractal structure known as a Menger Sponge, which can trap energy like no other material - including the energy a ghost child in a Taipei apartment. He and his team recruit Tung (Chang Chen), a detective with exemplary eyesight, to help them investigate. The one thing they know is that anyone who makes eye contact with the boy dies horribly; what Tung discovers is that there is a nearly invisible strand of silk that connects the boy with his potential victims.

Now, filmmaker Su Chao-bin may not have the strongest grasp on what a Menger Sponge is - a fractal pattern is a mathematical concept, by definition impossible to construct physically - but once he has introduced the idea, he's enormously clever with how to apply it. Film can be coated with in, for instance, to capture a ghost photographically. Put it in eyedrops, and a person can see ghosts for a bit. Build a big enough one, and you can capture a ghost inside. But it's not just that Su uses scientific jargon in his story, but the way the characters act. They seldom run from the supernatural, but are drawn out of curiosity, and investigate methodically, rather than acting in a foolish manner.

That makes Silk the sort of movie where the audience leans forward rather than jumps back, even though it's got a few good jump scenes. There's also a thoroughly creepy story to go with the ghost, one which involves a mentally retarded boy and his missing mother, along with Hashimoto's plans to use his discoveries for his own ends and how Tung is having trouble seeing past his own loss to how much his girlfriend loves him. Su plays the three stories off each other quite nicely, although the other members of Hashimoto's team do kind of wind up underused.

The main folks do pretty good, though - Chang Chen brings a grounded, no-nonsense approach to Tung, while Eguchi has an air of superiority that his character's crippled leg only seems to enhance. The rest of the actors don't have a lot to do - Karena Lam is pretty and understanding as Tung's girlfriend Wei, but she's just there for Tung to have a reason to be drawn back to the world of the living; Lam never gets much chance to make her interesting in her own right. Chen Bo-lin and Chang Chun-ning are hardly used as two of the research team's members, while Barbie Hsu has marginally more personality as the fourth member of the team and Hashimoto's lover.

The movie's not perfect, there are some less-than-stellar special effects at a couple points (the trade-off for having supernatural ideas beyond girls with dark black hair, I guess), and the film does rather shift gears in the last act. Still, I found myself liking the way Su Chao-bin thinks through most of the movie. It's a very modern take on dealing with a haunting, and as such kind of unique.

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