Ab-normal Beauty Review
Written by: jmh314
When viewing a horror film, often times you get either a great story or great visuals and sometimes a film comes along that surprises and has both. I've noticed recently that with Asian horror films they often sacrifice one of those elements for the other. Then out of Hong Kong comes the wonderful film Ab-normal Beauty. It is an offering by The Pang Brothers who are more famous for their film Bangkok Dangerous and The Eye, but deliver one heck of an emotional ride. Much like their other efforts, this film is visually stunning, slightly unnerving, and tells a pretty good story. In a time where many asian horror films are nothing more than "normal" Ab-normal Beauty really lives up to it's title.
Ab-normal Beauty is the story of a young teenage girl named Jiney, or as we come to know her as Jin. Jin is a very creative girl who is a great artist both with a paintbrush and with a camera. She has become well adept at using the camera and has won many awards and other accomplishments. Jin is never satisfied and always heads out looking for the perfect picture with her best friend Jas, who is always by Jins side.
After a day of picture taking with Jas, Jin is in her darkroom at home developing her prints when she is called out by her mother. Her mother is leaving for a very long business trip, and Jin seems kind of indifferent to her leaving. As the story unfolds, we learn through flashbacks that she doesnt believe her mother cares for her. When she was a child she was harrassed/assaulted by her cousin and other little boys, but her mother never believed her. Jin believes her mother has never believed her and doesnt love her, therefore doesnt care if she is out of town.
After her mother left, Jin heads back out to go visit Jas. On her way there she hears the sounds of a car accident. She heads to the source of the noise and sees a lady was struck by a car and is laying dead in the street. At first Jin is repulsed and seems frightened. But suddenly realizing she had her camera around her neck she begins to take pictures of the dead woman. She then heads over to see Jas and then decides to develop her pictures.
When developing the pictures of the dead woman, Jin looks at one print believes she has finally taken perfect picture. After analyzing it she realizes she hasnt, but now wants to photograph more death. While walking through a marketplace with Jas, Jin sees a man slaughtering chickens to later sell. She pays the man to kill more chickens and photographs these killings with great pleasure. Jin even heads out into the streets another day and takes pictures of dead animals she finds. She often times uses water to shape their fur and give different definition to their bodies before she photographs them.
Jin's new found love of photographing the dead have led her to look at the world in different ways. While painting a nude model in an art class, she imagines the model with blood dripping down her forehead and leaving a trail all the way down her to her toes. She thinks this shows the pure beauty of the subject and even goes ahead and paints the blood in the portrait that she saw in her vision..
Jin's obsession with death leads her to a bookstore to buy every book she can about photographing the dead. Her fascination with death has led her to make some pretty rash decisions all in order to try and obtain her perfect photo. Her friend Jas believes her obsession with death is getting out of hand and convinces Jin to give it all up and return to her normal photography. But when Jin gives this up, pictures of death mysteriously reappear in her locker at school. When at home she keeps getting mysterious videotapes sent to her depicting what may or may not be people being killed. But who is behind these pictures and tapes, and what is their motive to supplying Jin with them? As Jin tries to discover the truth to who is behind these tapes and what they mean, her nerves begin to fall apart and her world is flipped upside down.
The story to Ab-normal Beauty is really well done throught most of the film. The ending kind of unravels a little at the end but is still believable enough to give the viewer closure on the whole story. Leading up to the ending, the first hour does a solid job of building up it's story and characters. I got sucked into the obsession, pain and guilt going through Jin as her fascination with death spirals out of control. I felt as though I got to know both Jin and Jas and was able to get inside their heads and feel what they felt. Everything flows naturally and is filled with good drama. And then towards the end just when you think Jin has figured it all out, they flip her world upside down with a bit of a twist. It kind of comes out of nowhere and hits the viewer like a freight train. It caused the story to go from 0 to 60 in terms of adrenaline, but takes a bit of a misstep in doing so. There were a few things I found a little too convenient about the end, but overall it was one intense switch of gears and really had me on the edge of my seat for the most part.
The acting was very good throughout the film. Race Wong as Jin and Rosanne Wong as Jas did great jobs in sucking me into their characters. Race especially impressed me with Jin. She was a beautiful actress and did such a great job in portraying a train wreck of emotions and pain. Because of her mess of emotions combined with her beauty, you really feel bad for such a kind and beautiful girl to have to experience all those tough emotions.
The Pang Brothers films always are high in the cinematography department. While The Pang Brothers both produced, brother Oxide Pang served as the lone director. He did a great job in telling the story and getting the viewer sucked into the lives of Jin and Jas. The story is what holds the film together and Oxide Pang kept these pieces glued together like an intricate puzzle. His use of colors and cinematography helped provide more of an edge. Some of the color choices in the film were beautifully done. I dare viewers of this to not get sucked in by the colors during the opening sequence when Jin and Jas go on a picture taking stroll. And the use of music helps add more emotion to a piece that is already filled to the rim with emotial thoughts and expressions.
Ab-normal beauty lived up to it's title of "abnormal". This is one Asian horror film that didnt rely on ghosts or CGI tricks to keep the viewer on edge. This was accomplished through the strong storytelling and a huge ball of emotions that kept rolling only to get bigger and bigger as the story went on. It all builds up well to the ending that, despite a few missteps, does a good job coming full cirlce with all of the emotional instabilities of Jin. It was a film meant to be a roller coaster of emotions and concludes full speed ahead with an adrenaline filled ending most people probably wouldnt have expected. It is a must for any asian horror fan who is looking for a film that has some edge and has an ending that you dont see coming.