Ab-Normal Beauty
R0 - United Kingdom - Tartan Video
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak and Jarrod Baker (21st July 2006).
The Film

Ab-normal Beauty is a classic tale of girl meets boy. Except for the part where the girl witnesses a car crash then gets obsessed with taking photos of dead things.
And the part where in between having little flashbacks of childhood abuse at the hands of her cousin she has insane hallucinations of people bleeding.
And the part where she finds out that her best friend has the major lesbian hots for her. Oh, and the part where the boy (or boys) in question don't feature much at all.
You've probably got the picture now that the film is somewhat dark - with the scene set for a taut psychological thriller. However apart from a few brief moments of discomfort, for example when Jiney (Race Wong), the protagonist, pays a guy in a market to kill some chickens while she takes photos of it, nothing much happens for about the first hour of the film.
More specifically nothing much happens until about the 70 minute mark, at which point Jiney receives a video tape depicting a brutal killing - in what is pretty much a total departure from the plot up to this point. In fact it's almost like two films - neither of them all that great - have been inexpertly blended together to make this one.
The look, pacing and tone owe a lot to recent J-Horror, without being anywhere near as compelling as the best examples of that genre. A point of comparison would be the US version of Dark Water (2005), another movie in which nothing much happens very, very slowly. Sure, it's filmed, acted and edited competently enough - but still is somehow unsatisfying.
All this makes the somewhat sadistic denouement of the film difficult to take. In a better film, the graphic depictions of violence might not seem as pointless and exploitative as they do here. Unfortunately, it's not a better film, and so the prolonged and repeated scenes of women being beaten just seems somewhat misogynistic - especially when they've just followed a pretty much completely unnecessary lesbian sub-plot.
Unnecessary without a little bit of context - the liner notes of the DVD drop the slightly dirty detail that Jiney and her friend/lover Jas are apparently played by sisters Race Wong and Rosanne Wong, who when they're not acting moonlight as the popular Canto-Pop duo R2. But if you're not a fan of Canto-Pop, Sapphic incest or women getting beaten around the head by iron pipes then there's little to recommend this film.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is quite good. The image is clean without any noticeable flaws, sharpness was consistent throughout most of the film, although some softness is evident in the dark room scenes. Colours are lush and vibrant, although the red lighting in the darkroom scenes did bleed occasionally. Blacks are bold and deep, shadow detail remained consistent throughout the film, especially in the darkroom scenes. Overall it's a very good transfer that presents the film as the filmmaker intended.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included on this release, all of which are in Cantonese. We have a DTS 5.1 surround track as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS sound track. I found the track to be rather moody making effective use of the surrounds when necessary. Dialogue is clear and is presented distortion free. Music and other directional effects come out nicely and well balanced.
Optional subtitles are also included in English, they were easy to read and didn not disappear off screen too quickly, I could not spot any spelling or grammatical errors, which is always nice.

Extras

The "Behind-the-Scenes" featurette runs for 10 minutes 55 seconds and is a standard EPK style clip. This piece covers the basics, what the story is about, what the characters go through, the cast and director discuss the experience of working on this film, as well as discussing the visual look of the film and the glamorization of the violence among other things. This piece is rather brief and doesn't go beyond explaining the basic information. It's hardly a behind-the-scenes look because we don't get any footage shot during the production but all interviews after the fact and some clips from the film, which is hardly worth a watch.

Next up are a series of 9 delete scenes, [resented here in a reel that runs for 7 minutes 50 seconds. The scenes included are:
- Scene 1: A darkroom montage, Jiney develops some photos.
- Scene 2: Jiney phones her friend Jes to come over her house.
- Scene 3: Jes and Jiney in the darkroom, Jes comments on how disgusting the photos Jiney has taken are.
- Scene 4: While in the darkroom, the two discuss what they actually see within the photos.
- Scene 5: Jiney examines recently developed photos, and in a moment of panic she sees a little girl standing in the doorway.
- Scene 6: Anson compliments Jiney's painting as they walk along the halls of the school.
- Scene 7: Jiney and Jes look over some recently sent photos of a morbid nature.
- Scene 8: The two girls watch the disturbing video sent to them, Jiney looks away while Jes can't take her eyes off the screen.
- Scene 9: The two girls dance around the darkroom in what appears to be a series of choreographed dances in this montage set to music.

Rounding out the extras is a booklet with a liner note essay by Justin Bowyer.

Overall

The Film: D+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: C Overall: B-

 


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