Oxide Pang’s Ab-Normal Beauty, the companion film to brother Danny Pang’s Leave Me Alone, holds onto the Pang stylistic norms that have made them famous: painterly composition, cool colour design, and a penchant for unnecessary editing. However, Ab-Normal Beauty isn’t without some major drawbacks.
There are two things that let this film down. Firstly, Hong Kong pop duo 2R are simply not good actors, especially when trying to deliver some heart-felt lines. The tension between the film’s main characters, Jin (Race Wong) and Jas (Rosanne Wong) feels unconvincing: maybe it didn’t occur to Oxide, but casting two people to play sexually intimate friends when the actors are sisters doesn’t have much chance of yielding a natural performance. The second let-down is the film’s plot, which is surprising, as the Pang brothers are usually quite innovative and proficient at structuring a film. The way that Oxide illustrates Jin’s self destruction and descent into perversion through the photography of the deceased doesn’t quite hit the mark. Jin’s embrace of perversion seems to spring out of a vacuum too early in the film, thus inhibiting the viewer’s connection with her as the film’s central protagonist. Furthermore, her descent, which is inter-cut with various flashbacks and dreams that liken her obsession with death to an abusive childhood, is a touch well-worn.
Negatives aside, Ab-Normal Beauty does offer something for those who enjoy visual beauty and stylistic flair. The film’s images are superbly composed; nice decentered close ups, with a variety of bold lighting schemes that skilfully reflect upon the photography-centred narrative. Furthermore, these images are emphasized by Oxide’s adept understanding of the use of music. The film successfully marries a variety of styles of music to accompany the MTV-like visuals. The sound in this film tends to be more successfully emotive than most other mood thrillers. A most memorable point in the film is when Jin and Jas take to the streets, SLR cameras tightly in hand, taking snapshots of the city-scape all against the backdrop of classically romantic string music. What a nice and contrived way to romanticize the importance of photography early on in the film. Only the Pang brothers can pull off a bold move such as this!
Ab-Normal Beauty doesn’t stir up much excitement or suspense, but it is a film that you can enjoy for the fantastic plasticity of Oxide’s visual and audio splendour, and isn’t it the sensory barrage that we ultimately love about the Pangs? If not for its sensory pleasure, then looking at Race Wong roughly chained to a chair, or discussing Anson Leung’s bizarre likeness to Ekin Cheng may elicit some more trivial entertainment. Some may even find it rewarding to psychoanalyse the deep and dark recesses of Jin’s perverted mind, yet I don’t advise it.