“Diary” – A.J. Hakari

A film focused on mentally-unbalanced characters is always a huge gamble. Despite masterpieces like Memento and A Beautiful Mind, too many features use this angle as an excuse to do whatever the hell they want, screwing with viewers before arriving at an eye-rolling conclusion. Well, leave it up to that most schizophrenic of filmmaking duos, the Pang Brothers, to carry on tradition with their latest work, Diary. Here we have another descent into madness that alienates more than it absorbs, with every lame plot twist it introduces only fueling the audience’s collective desire to chuck something heavy through the TV — and fast.

Charlene Choi plays Winnie, a young woman who’s endured a string of bad relationships. The latest blow is delivered when longtime boyfriend Seth calls it quits out of nowhere, leaving Winnie a heartbroken mess. But it’s not long before she finds hope in the form of Ray (Shawn Yue), an office worker she initially mistakes for Seth. After striking up a conversation, Winnie slowly becomes acquainted with Ray, to the point that he starts visiting often for dinner and even moves in after a while. But it’s obvious from the moment we see Winnie that all is not right in her world. The more time she spends with Ray, the more obsessive and clingy she becomes, fearful that he’s going to bolt just like her other boyfriends. But there’s also the matter of Winnie’s diary, which contains her every thought — including a dark secret Winnie herself must eventually own up to.

Diary is a maddening piece of work that manages to be confounding on two fronts. There’s the story itself, which is plenty infuriating on its own terms, but I had to take particular issue with what the Pangs (or, since he directed it, Oxide Pang specifically) were trying to do in the first place. It’s no spoiler to reveal that Winnie is very much cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs; that’s obvious from the moment she starts hallucinating giant marionettes skulking around her apartment. For a while, I thought this would be a story about a troubled woman trying to escape her inner demons, but ol’ Oxide didn’t have this in mind. The way he sees it, there’s still a mystery to be wrought out of Diary, and the film is structured as such. The trouble is that the very hook Oxide uses to lure in viewers (Winnie’s undoubted insanity) is the very twist he expects us to be surprised with later on in the story. Maybe he knows something I don’t, but from where I’m sitting, the dude plays his hand way too early, and it makes Diary more of an ordeal than a feature film.

But aside from a series of twists Stevie Wonder could see coming, Diary comes across as tiresome and creaky simply because not much happens. The story pretty much boils down to being “The Winnie Show,” focused almost entirely on her and her troubled psyche. That’s all well and good, but take out the occasional freaky vision, and what you’ve got is a crazy woman making lunch for an hour and a half. The fact that we know what’s coming only adds to the monotony, for not only do we know where the film is going to end up, it’s going to take its sweet time getting there. Eventually, it’s up to the cast to rescue Diary from descending completely into boredom, a task they fail spectacularly at, though not without at least some effort. I suppose Choi’s performance wasn’t necessarily bad; she had me convinced of Winnie’s unstable nature and then some, but the story tended to treat her as a device more than as a character. Yue (previously seen as the most badass of Invisible Target’s heroes) is even worse shape, stuck staring into space for the bulk of his performance. The sullen expression he wears for the majority of the film could very well double as an indication of his own displeasure at getting roped into this clunker.

When the Pang Brothers are at the top of their game, the results can be either as gritty as Bangkok Dangerous or as thought-provoking as Ab-Normal Beauty. But when they’re having an off day (which is slowly becoming the rule, rather than the exception), it’s the audience that ends up suffering the most. The Brothers Pang have made better thrillers than Diary, though with their latter-day resume littered with turkeys like this, whether they will in the future is getting more and more doubtful.

Rating: ★½☆☆

-A.J. Hakari

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

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