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August 16, 2005

Ab-normal Beauty

Sei mong se jun
Oxide Pang - 2004
Universe Hong Kong Region 0 DVD

Well before it became a staple on the Sundance Channel, I saw the Pang Brothers' The Eye theatrically. My interest was seeing one of what were several Asian films listed as being sources for American remakes. Danny and Oxide Pang are two ferociously talented twin brothers who have made films together, such as The Eye and Bangkok Dangerous, and individually. From Hong Kong, they started their professional careers in Thailand, and have filmed both in Thailand and Hong Kong. The Eye is everything one would want in a horror movie: scary, suspenseful, artistic and apocalyptic. A warning is in order here - Tom Cruise has the American remake rights.

Ab-normal Beauty is a solo effort by Oxide Pang. The story is of an art student who gets herself enmeshed in images of death once she photographs a car accident victim. The film has its clear antecedents in Rear Window and Peeping Tom, with nods to De Palma's 8mm, Amenabar's Tesis and Dario Argento's "animal" trilogy. Beautifully photographed, much of the color is very rich, with much tinting using phosphorescent red, green and blue. Ab-normal Beauty is somewhat like The Eye in suggesting that the greatest horror may be confronting the truth about one's self.

In having a female protagonist, Pang touches on such subjects as sexual abuse, real and false memories, voyeurism and the objectification of women, without direct comment. Not only is Pang's protagonist, Jiney, a stand-in for the viewer who is fascinated with artistic representations of death, such as horror movies, but Pang plays with the audience by having a scene where Jiney is videotaped by an unknown person while she is in the act of photographing a woman falling from a building. By extension, Pang is exploring the difference, or lack of difference, between an artist like Joel-Peter Witkin or Oxide Pang, with the creators and consumers of images that may be more arguably exploitive.

My attempts to translate the Chinese title with Babelfish have failed, but the English language title is worth commenting on. Ab-normal Beauty works as a double entendre. Jiney could be considered abnormal based on her interest in photographing scenes of death, as well as her persistent trauma from sexual abuse at a young age and ambivalent sexual orientation. The photographs created for the film, like the photographs refered to by Witkin and Weegee, are simultaneously brutal and beautiful, a distance from the more traditional "beauty" of nature photographs. Maybe I'm stretching here, but because of the hyphenated title, I wonder if this is a play on AB blood, or even the A and B rolls of films.

* * *

Ab-normal Beauty was available through the web rental outlet Nicheflix. Fellow film blogger Girish wanted to know more about Nicheflix and my experience with this company.

My overall experience with Nicheflix is that they are pretty good. They specialize in films that are not available through U.S. sources. If you have a code free DVD player, you can view anything they offer. For those who are limited to Region 1 DVDs, many of the DVDs from outside the U.S. are NTSC Region 1 or 0. While there are some duplications of titles with Netflix, I have been able to see films I might not have been able to enjoy otherwise, and saved substantially by not purchasing titles of interest.

The downsides to Nicheflix are relatively minor. As this is a small company based in Indiana, the gap between receiving films and sending them back is several days. The selection of titles seems abitrary. I have a queue list of about one hundred films, yet I can always name other titles only available as imports that Nicheflix does not carry.

These negatives are minor when one considers some of the films I have been able to see like Gumnaam, the Bollywood musical thriller best known for the excerpt shown in Ghost World, the Italian classic Bitter Rice, and several films by Cedric Klapisch and Marco Bellochio. All in all, I'm glad I stumbled upon Nicheflix when I was Googling for a now forgotten title one night.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 16, 2005 12:32 PM


Thanks so much, Peter!

Posted by: girish at August 20, 2005 04:56 PM