A fascinating examination of the depraved depths of obsession, AB-NORMAL BEAUTY is a modern attempt at exorcising primal anxieties. Morbidly fascinating and intellectually revealing, the movie attacks us at our most vulnerable while asking us to enjoy the experience. And we do; it’s hard not to, for the director’s eye for creeping detail and the bold implications of the scathing story entangle us with ease. And if the promises of the plot and the evocative atmosphere are not always realized, at times befuddled by a story that threatens to lose its characters within the veering of its disjointed (if fascinating) themes, the imagery is always engaging.
Jiney, a photography student, finds herself obsessed with photographing scenes of death after snapping a shot of an automobile accident. Delighted and disturbed by her new fixation, Jiney’s life is lent a fresh perspective and sense of purpose by this grotesque hobby. When she receives a videotape of a girl who has been beaten to death, her life takes yet another disturbing turn - one that will threaten both her sanity and life. Struggling to solve the riddle of both her own conflicted desires and the origins of the violent tape, Jiney’s horror is only beginning. When her life and sanity are threatened, this dark dream spirals into a corrupted steel edge of madness and surrealistic beauty.
Intelligent and introspective, AB-NORMAL BEAUTY is a mature tragedy wrapped in the style and thematic resonance of a creepily evocative horror film. Approaching subjects of dying, decay, and desire from an odd, fragmented perspective unfamiliar to many viewers, the ‘ab-normal’ beauty of this self-defining feature is easily one of its most admirable components. A modern re-working of the traditional Faustus motif, this myth of self-effacement, discovery, and morbid revelation works on both a literal and symbolic level, with the archetypal energy of its subtext reaffirmed and made more concrete by an active surface plot. Jiney is no less than a revision of our nature’s hunger to always know and/or experience more than what is allowed by earthly, normal circumstances. Hers is the soul that wants to always know, feel, and do more, sharing the restless spirit of a mythic Trickster Figure and the destructive innocence of Pandora. Finding a medicine for her melancholy in death - the very destructive force that should repel her - Jiney embarks upon a dark journey both physical and spiritual, a hell partially of her own devising. She is consistently propelled deeper into a confused arena of torment and gratification. This essential, tragic flaw in her character is the very kernel that attracts us to her even as she - and our own instincts - unnerves us.
Shadows dance and darkness breaths in the atmosphere evoked by Oxide of Pang Brothers fame, who creates a mood of karmic terror in this film similar to the morose wonder so apparent in THE EYE and its sequel. While not as pleasing or appealing as these, AB-NORMAL BEAUTY is just as intelligent, and perhaps more challenging in its assumptions and moral predicaments, and therefore more chilling. Disturbing through implication rather than viscera, the violence of the film can’t quite compare to the plot’s emphasis on moral ambiguity. How one lives one’s life and how one approaches the suffering of others is of pivotal importance to the script, and the inventive ways in which Pang puts characters in harm’s way should be considered a ‘how-to’ course in generating suspense. The director’s careful compositions, shadow-drenched interiors, and ability to dig deep into the characters is matched by his ability to simplify the complexities of Eastern mysticism, finding a root for the everyday anxieties of life in the greater cosmic mysteries of the supernatural. The ease by which the spectral is interweaved with the intimate makes this a worthwhile film despite several flaws with pacing. Finding horror in the very heart of our humanity, AB-NORMAL BEAUTY stares deep into our paradoxical fear and fascination of death. No small accomplishment for a film devoted to life’s tragic emptiness and it’s fascination with fear.
Featured in anamorphic widescreen, the picture in this Asia Extreme presentation is smooth and professional, featuring vivid colors, clearly established foregrounds and backgrounds, and allowing ambiguities of shade to emerge. Sound is likewise admirable, coming through clean and concise in both Dolby Digital Surround Sound and DTS Surround Sound. Clarifying between dialogue and background noise, these audio tracks are satisfying. Extras are generous in depth and scope, providing a thorough look at the preparation and production of AB-NORMAL BEAUTY. Creating a voyeuristic view of the aesthete goals, philosophical viewpoints, and technological skills of the crew, “The Making of Ab-Normal Beauty” is a featurette that digs past the face of the production and into its dark heart. Deleted scenes follow, offering moments that lend further mystery and emotional depth to characters. While not essential, they are certainly appreciated. The film’s original trailer is also included, as is the adequate photo gallery and usual slew of Asia Extreme trailers.
William P. Simmons
Directed byOxide Pang
Cantonese Language/ English and Spanish subtitles
Region 1 / NSTC / Anamorphic Widescreen Dolby Digital 5.1