David (DJ Vivona) is a freelance scribe suffering writer's block. His appartment is a mess, as is his life - he can't function on his job, drinks too much and has trouble sleeping.

Into this fragile mindset wanders Trent (Jason Allen Wolfe), David's gaunt brother, who turns up on the doorstep with a DVD for David to watch - then disappears just as rapidly.

David is perturbed by this encounter, and so rings his sister Karla (Rachel Lewis) to share his experience with her. When her girlfriend Zenna (Amanda Booth) asks how long it is that Trent has been dead, we realise just why it is that both remaining siblings are jarred by David's psychotic (?) episode.

As the DVD whirrs into life, David is met by the image of Beth (Eli DeGeer) on the screen. Sobbing, she explains how Trent had been seduced by a mysterious woman called Tracey - who hooked him on heroin, then forced him to sell drugs for her in return for more drugs, sex and board.

Beth later reveals (largely via graphic sex-montage flashbacks) how she too was engulfed in Tracey's erotic trap, and how she and Trent grew close as they vowed to escape from their seducer's grip ... with fatal results.

Fearing that David has lost the plot totally, Karla travels to visit him with Zenna by her side. But there are a few surprises in store upon their arrival ...!

Shot on video, yet highly accomplished in it's abundance of visually attractive ideas, CHINA WHITE SERPENTINE is proof positive (as if it were needed these days) that Eric Stanze (SCRAPBOOK; ICE FROM THE SUN; SAVAGE HARVEST) is possibly the best filmmaker working within the digital medium in the US today.

The editing, the use of light, the colours, the off-kilter camera angles ... CHINA proves how much can be acheived via video, and is a great way of silencing the thickies who still think SOV stuff is going to be a load of old wank.

Lest we forget though, that this is not Stanze's effort alone. The film (based on his original idea) was co-directed by Robin Garrels (INSANIAC; BUZZ SAW) and between them they've crafted a highly absorbing near-experimental yarn whose heart lies deep within the horror of Class A drug misuse.

But before the term 'experimental' has you ducking for cover, rest assured this film has a brisk pace, plenty of dialogue and a relatively simple premise. There are a few unexplained plot points and the odd dalliance with different film styles - not to mention a LOT of drug-induced softcore sex scenes!

Oh, and although both directors should by now be renowned for their affinity towards the gory stuff, it's worth noting that CHINA remains quite subdued in this department ... until, that is, a pretty wild chain saw massacre that offers grue to spare!

The video presentation of CHINA is very good - original full-frame ratio, free from unnecessary grain or artefacting. No compression problems, which serves this SOV transfer extremely well.

Audio-wise, it's the original 2.0 mix on offer here - loud and clear; no complaints.

SUB ROSA are more than reliable when it comes to the extras department too, and I'm pleased to say there's no change in that fact here.

The first of two commentary tracks features the co-directors in conversation with the film's cinematographer, Jason Christ. They speak of the exhausting long days involved in ensuring this shoot was complete with one month, how surprised they were with the quality of the end product, the dedication of the cast, etc. It's an incredibly fluent and articulate track - Garrels comes across as the most jovial of the three, while Stanze seems keen to be taken as a serious filmmaker.

A second commentary track finds actresses Eli DeGeer and Amanda Booth fondly remembering the shoot and squirming madly during those sex scenes!

There's also the option to watch the film with a music-only track: the soundtrack to the film, in isolation. It's a nice touch, seeing as though the soundtrack is very versatile and extremely important to the various atmospherics suggested throughout the feature.

Two behind-the-scenes documentaries offer invaluable info on everything from how the film was originally commissioned to be made and how all the actors fitted into such a tight schedule, to how the whole thing was edited on computers in it's post-production stages. 45 minutes in total length.

3 minutes worth of outtakes range from people laughing on-set, to goofy between-take, candid cast and crew moments.

Finally, you get the usual array of trailers for other SUB ROSA products. On this occasion, you're considering CHINA WHITE SERPENTINE; ICE FROM THE SUN; SCRAPBOOK; BUZZ SAW; INSANIAC.

The disc is Region 0 NTSC encoded, DVD dual layer 9. It comes in a black keepcase and the static menu pages include a scene selection page offering access to the main feature via 12 chapter stops.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Sub Rosa
Region All NTSC
Not Rated
Extras : see main review