“Re-Cycle” – A.J. Hakari

From watching Re-Cycle, you wouldn’t have guessed that its creators helped usher in a new wave of Asian cinema. Brothers Danny and Oxide Pang presented 1999’s Bangkok Dangerous as a crime drama with a twist, and 2002’s The Eye got the A-horror boom off to a great start before it petered out fast. But Re-Cycle is the latest product of a woefully inconsistent streak the brothers have recently adopted. It’s a nice step in a different direction for the pair, but this experiment doesn’t end up working in their favor.

After penning a trilogy of acclaimed love stories, best-selling author Ting-Yin (Angelica Lee) is in the mood for something different. For her next novel, she decides to turn to the realm of horror, a world that, as it turns out, she can’t seem to get a good grasp on. But little does she realize that her discarded concepts and ideas are about to come back to haunt her — literally. Not long after she’s begun her first draft, Ting-Yin becomes beset by a series of spooky visions, which reach a fever pitch when the befuddled writer suddenly finds herself in a completely different world. This land, as she comes to discover, is populated by “the abandoned,” thoughts, places, and even people that the world just seems to have forgotten. But Ting-Yin is going to have to work fast to find a way out, for the spirits of the dead have picked up on her presence and will stop at nothing to see that she join their ranks.

One of my biggest pet peeves are fantasy movies that make stuff up as they go along. Instead of adhering to a set of established rules, such movies do whatever sounds convenient to the plot, whether it’s logical or not. Re-Cycle builds itself on a fantasy foundation (the premise has been done in everything from The Wizard of Oz to Labyrinth), but thankfully, it leaves most of these cop-outs at home. Instead, the Pangs opt to focus more on conjuring up funky imagery with which to surround Ting-Yin, and in that respect, I have to give them credit. The film never settles on one visual style for too long, always keeping viewers on their toes as it hops from setting to setting, which range from decrepit carnivals to a hall lined with aborted fetuses (I told you things got weird). But there comes a point during Re-Cycle that the story meanders around so much, it can’t be forgiven by simply looking really cool. If the film is a travelogue of the supernatural, then the Pangs are without a destination, quick to point out the strange sights but ultimately leading viewers on a road to nowhere.

The story only works so much when it’s centered solely on studying Ting-Yin’s reactions to her surroundings. Our heroine is eventually supplied with a pint-sized companion (Yaqi Zeng) who obviously knows more than she should, and we the audience eagerly await an emotional payoff that we know is on the way. But when it arrives, it comes as a mixed blessing, followed soon by a lame, pre-credits plot twist that only serves to confuse rather than shock. Re-Cycle as a whole comes across as incredibly muddled, its themes of memories left behind taking on lives of their own intriguing but never done true justice. Lee, who starred in that original version of The Eye, starts the picture off on a strong note, with a strong performance as a wounded woman whose lost love has dried up her creative well. By the end of the film, however, she’s reduced to pretty much running around and staring at stuff, as exhausted with going through the story’s motions as the viewers are.

Re-Cycle displays a good amount of imagination compared to the Pangs’ lesser films. But it also doesn’t lack in the ability to disappoint its viewers, to lure in viewers with a dark and attractive facade, only to reveal a most shaky cinematic foundation.

Rating: ★★☆☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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