Ab-Normal Beauty (Sei mong se jun) (2004)

Drop dead beautiful.
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Ab-Normal Beauty - Drop Dead Beautiful

The more prolific half of the Pang Brothers released Ab-Normal Beauty (Sei mong se jun) in 2004. Oxide Pang Chun seems to be unsure whether he wants to make a morbid documentation of an obsessive photographer's fascination with death or a slasheresque snuff movie... so he does both. Rather than clumsily merge of the two concepts the movie turns into a game of two distinct halves with a very dubious linkage in the middle. The ending leaves a slight taste of unfulfilment as the suspicions raised (for me anyway) don't really pay-off in any way, conjuring up the same emotions conjured when porn documentaries tell you that porn star sex isn't as rampant and dirty as the movies make out. The experience isn't ruined but something inside dies a little.

The first portion of the movie deals with student photographer Jiney (Race Wong) and her determination to find contentment within her work. The photography aspect of the movie is reinforced by numerous stunning backdrops and vibrant colours, emphasising the beauty in mundane things in a way that a photographer would view the world. This beauty starts to follow a morbid path when Jiney witnesses a car accident and sees beauty in the bloody corpses left in the wake of the vehicular tragedy. Jiney becomes obsessed with capturing the moment of death on film, as death is the definitive example of capturing the moment. As her obsession grows then the movie becomes much darker as Jiney slowly deteriorates in the mental department. As is often customary in Asian movies, flashbacks reveal sexual abuse and a mother's willingness to ignore her daughter's cries for help in Jiney's past.

Jiney's "special friend", Jas (Roseanne Wong), tries to intervene on Jiney's macabre mania but instead becomes involved as a mystery fanatic of morbid art becomes obsessed with capturing Jiney's attention. Jiney's enigmatic admirer likes to take the concept of "capturing the moment of death" a little further. This is the point where the movie switches from a profound psychological Eastern horror to a more westernised "teens terrorised by a torturer" horror. While maintaining the Asian vibe the movie does seem to take a dramatic drift from the expected Pang movie to something a little less taxing like Evil Dead Trap.

Despite the change in rhythm there is an attempt to tie the stories together at the end. The tenuous link is easily overlooked should nature inflict the viewer with sneeze or the time-honoured scramble for the pause button due to a urination left until the last minute. It seems that the scene where the suspicions should have started was maybe crow-barred in as an afterthought as it is doubtful that even Columbo would have wanted to know one more thing after encountering the villain.

A seemingly rushed storyline doesn't take away any of the beauty that is expected of a Pang product. Visually the movie is stunning, the characters and character development are captivating and the thrills and blood-spills are there. It could be argued that the segregation of the two genres was a purposeful experiment by Oxide Pang Chun and given his talent as a director then this is probably the case. A valiant experiment it is, but something just doesn't quite work. There are a number of times when it seems that the movie is going to tie together on a deeper level (the facial mask of Jiney and the gimp mask of the killer possibly inspiring a jump towards certain conclusions) but the steam seems to run out at the end and heads for the easy solution. This maybe intentional to add to the realism of the situation or another experiment in delivering what is not expected but rather than an unexpected "Holy Fuck" it is more of an "Oh... Ok"

Ab-Normal Beauty messes with your head in one way then messes with it in another; this is a good thing as experiences go but not really a well rounded story time. It needs to be seen for the beauty that is captured through the lens that portrays the beauty captured through someone else's lens, whether that beauty is the vivid green that nature delivers or the red that an auto-asphyxiation obsessed pervert beating people to death delivers... the choice is yours!
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Categories: Asian Horror Movies
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