What at first seems to be a straightforward, even hackneyed far Eastern horror movie mutates into something rather strange and wonderful in this departure from their usual style for the Pang Brothers. It may come off as horror to begin with, but Re-cycle (2008) is soon more of a fantasy adventure, which takes lofty ideas about the power of creativity and spins them into a bizarre, often frightening alternative reality, not all that unlike certain sequences in Pan's Labyrinth – albeit on a more epic scale. This is like The Pilgrims Progress (no, really) except with a modern set of preoccupations at its core. There's also a play on a certain contentious moral issue at work here, however, which may or may not chafe slightly...

Ting Yin (Angelica Lee) is a successful author whose popular romantic novel, My Love, has recently been made into a film. This success has made people very keen for her next book, although she is trying her hand at a rather different genre this time around, opting for a supernatural story she has provisionally titled 'Re-cycle'. Ting Yin works by putting herself squarely at the core of her stories; some as-yet unspecified romantic hardship was behind My Love – so, she says, she craves a ghostly experience of her own, to allow her to really commit herself to Re-cycle. As the old adage goes, you should be careful what you wish for – as, no sooner has she crafted a character, than she begins to see that character lurking around her apartment...

That could have been it, for the rest of this movie. Game over. It might well have consisted of the common-or-garden Oriental ghost story, and wouldn't you know, the ghostie which Ting Yin dreams up is a willowy woman with very long black hair, but luckily it seems as though the Pang Brothers are doing little more than setting us up during this sequence of their film. Even so, the concept of an author actually creating the character about whom they are writing is not a bad one – it was done rather well in a film from our own neck of the woods by the title of Paperhouse (1988). Still, I've seen my share of long-haired ghosts. I know their love of prank-calling people, and how they generally tamper with electrical gadgetry. I didn't really want to see another one of these films, variant on the style or not – so by thirty minutes in, I was hoping against hope for a redeeming twist.

Wouldn't you know – I certainly got that. Whilst she tries to find inspiration for her new book, Ting Yin finds herself in a place she doesn't remember reaching. Where is she? And are the strange people she meets ghosts? Well, yes and no...because this is a place unlike any other: vast, by turns derelict and teeming with individuals, then barren, and then lush. But however it shifts around her, it is a frightening place, and she knows she has to fathom her whereabouts – then leave, as quickly as possible. As a nameless little girl tells her, from time to time, the world around them gets 'Re-cycled'...

Re-cycle is a visually accomplished piece of work, and that's for sure. The sets are nothing short of brilliant, with great vistas of disorientating detail, and the CGI used is carefully done – it embellishes the film, rather than jarring against it. The long shots, the use of light – this is one of the most engaging-looking nightmares I have seen on screen for a long time, and shows evidence of real imaginative flair. So it looks magnificent - but how about the accompanying story? Well, the plot is revealed very slowly, as Ting Yin comes to understand where she is – and the nameless little girl, whom she eventually names Ting-yu (Yaqi Zeng) reveals herself to be a native of this odd world. She's prepared to help the stranger to escape, and can tell her the little she knows. The strong performance from this child actor added a humanity to proceedings which may have remained lacking, had Angelica Lee stayed on her own – so serene was she, even in the face of utter insanity, that it seemed she needed someone to act alongside to really come into her own.

Eventually, Ting Yin comes to know everything – and that culminating moment, sadly, is where I baulked somewhat. It's against my secret reviewer's code to spoiler this (or any) film if I can help it, as I think its eventual imaginative play on a contentious issue can just about be permitted in light of its many enjoyable qualities but – well, let's just say it layers that contentious issue with a spiky sort of sentimentality which is more usually associated with some very stupid people with some very aggressive agendas. The Pang Brothers are not stupid, but the big reveal was questionable, at least for me. Enough to spoil the film? No, but enough to raise an eyebrow perhaps. I know it's not real, and I doubt very much, as some posters on IMDb seem to think, that this is all a propaganda piece. However, even parallel universes can irritate!

Overall, though, I can recommend this film to anyone who is interested in seeing an unusual and arresting dark fantasy, because Re-cycle will definitely not disappoint on that score. It's a rich and interesting piece of cinema.

The print I saw looked very good indeed; it didn't let down the visuals it had to offer, providing rich colouration and good levels of contrast, while the sound quality was clear. The movie is available with or without subtitles and offers scene access, as well as a generous helping of special features. If you have an interest in the technical know-how behind the film, you can have a look at some of the CGI rendering comparisons – something which is still a reasonably rare extra. There is also an audio commentary from the Pang Brothers, lead actress Angelica Lee, and the VFX Director. Then, you can check out a Making Of featurette, deleted scenes, the official trailer (as well as some other Cine du Monde trailers), footage from the film's premiθre showing, and a cast and crew Q&A.

Review by Keri O’Shea

Released by Cine Du Monde
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review