“Silk” (2006) – A.J. Hakari

Until seeing Silk, I’ve been disappointed with the latest slate of Asian ghost stories. The once-frightening formula has grown tiresome, each successive movie depending way too much on the structures of previous films instead of coming up with something new. But while Japan and Korea are spinning their horror tires in the mud, Taiwan has managed to surge from behind and deliver a refreshing and interesting genre tale. Although Silk at times displays some tired elements not uncommon in post-Ringu horror cinema, it provides an original enough slant to warrant at least more than a passing glance.

Through the invention of an energy-absorbing device named the Menger Sponge, paranormal researcher Hashimoto (Yosuke Eguchi) has done what was thought to be impossible: he’s captured an actual ghost. Having isolated the spirit, that of a young boy, in a ramshackle apartment building, Hashimoto and his team of experts keep constant watch over him, observing his behavior and pondering why he has remained in our world instead of passing on. This is where Tung (Chang Chen), a hawk-eyed lip-reader with the police department, comes in. Hashimoto hires him to decipher what the little boy is speaking in silence and delve into his background, attempting to turn up some clues concerning his identity and what really happened to him. But there’s also the matter of the spirit’s homicidal tendencies, how those who stare into his eyes meet a frightfully nasty end. As Tung’s investigation uncovers more hidden truths, the danger grows, with the little boy’s power somehow tied to an ethereal thread of silk that spells doom to anyone who’s able to see it.

Silk feels like a breath of fresh air, yet it does have its share of more stifling moments. For example, it includes those obligatory “boo” theatrics horror fans are all too familiar with. That’s not really a problem here until the last act, but the good mojo built up beforehand by the patient story and atmospheric setting quickly gives way to cheesy ghost attacks (the beef noodles scene had me shaking my head) and some laughably bad, computer-generated effects. Such moments tend to damage the film’s symbolism and undermine its underlying emotional impact, casting a sort of goofball light on the climax just as all the emotional threads are tying themselves together. Plus, the actual silk aspect of the story seems a little overcomplicated.

Still, there’s a lot to admire about an unassuming little picture like Silk. Its central premise is a real corker (what does happen when you catch a ghost for real?) that’s used as a jumping-off point for several thoughtful meditations on the nature of death, the possibility of an afterlife, and how the living and the dead aren’t so different after all. Silk is an often maddening bundle of philosophies, technology, and the supernatural, but it eventually pulls itself together into a rather groovy and spooky whole. Offbeat without drowning in its own weirdness, the movie introduces just enough strangeness to marry the story’s sci-fi, horror, and action elements into an increasingly attention-grabbing concept. The idea of a cop shooting down a ghost may seem silly on paper, but writer/director Chao-pin Su makes it work. Also, giving a good boost to the production, the acting includes solid turns from Chen (previously seen as a lovestruck tailor in the Wong Kar Wai segment of Eros) and Eguchi, whose character Hashimoto harbors, of course, a hidden agenda in mind for the captured ghost.

Though frequently a little far-fetched, even for a combination sci-fi/horror/cop drama, Silk has a freaky charm. At a time when Asian horror flicks are starting to become indiscernable from one another, fans need all the originality they can get, and Silk boasts just enough spark to lead horror buffs through this cinematic darkness.

Rating: ★★★☆

-A.J. Hakari

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