Image Entertainment // 2006 // 85 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard // December 23rd, 2008
"You look very much like him."
Following Re-Cycle, which was as weird as it was brilliant, I had high hopes for the Pang Brothers' Diary, hopes that were pretty much dashed by this bitterly disappointing effort.
Even at a mere 85 minutes long Diary is a slow burner, often frustratingly so. The film starts well enough and, for the first hour, offers plenty of promise. We are immediately introduced to Winnie Leung (Charlene Choi), a lonely and at least initially sympathetic character who spends her time cooking, making puppets, and writing in her diary. Through a number of phone calls we learn that Winnie's boyfriend, Seth, has recently left her. Winnie isn't able to cope very well with the breakup, despite the best efforts of her friend, Yvonne. While out one day, Winnie meets Ray (Shawn Yu), a dead ringer for Seth and soon begins a relationship with him. Very quickly it becomes obvious that Winnie has issues; she is overly clingy towards Ray and constantly fears he will leave her. More worryingly Winnie is shown to be unwell with a serious mental illness, suffering from disturbing visions and hearing things that aren't there. Eventually Winnie confides in Ray that Seth had died six months ago in a car accident, this seems to take a weight off Winnie's shoulders, and her relationship with Ray develops with the two of them moving in together. But soon Winnie's relationship with Ray begins to mirror her relationship with Seth, and a dark secret hidden in Winnie's diary, coupled with her diminishing grasp on reality, threatens to change everything.
With its narrative frequently backtracking to replay the same events from a differing viewpoint, and in its dealing with mental illness, Diary reminded me of both Memento and The Machinist. But whereas both those movies tightened their grip on their audiences right to the end, Diary suffers a serious case of burnout. Despite an excellent performance from Charlene Choi, who capably goes from cute to creepy at the drop of a hat, Diary feels undercooked. While director Oxide Pang continues to impress visually, the previously mentioned backtracking scenes being particularly striking, he is letdown by a screenplay that could have done with a lot more work. This is a case of an interesting premise wasted due to the Pang Brothers' workload. A look at IMDb shows the brothers are going through a very prolific stage right now; sadly their quality control seems to be having trouble keeping up.
In all honesty, Diary would have worked much better as a short, rather than a full-length feature. So often the film is guilty of treading water, ramming home the same points over and over again. The film's final act, which fails to deliver a satisfying dénouement, sees Oxide throw in an inevitable twist that is probably far less effective than what most viewers will have expected.
As previously stated, Diary continues Oxide Pang's form of visually impressive films. But whereas the Pangs allowed their imagination to run wild on Re-Cycle, in Diary they are far more restrained. This is a much smaller film in scope, mostly set in Winnie's apartment. As such the room for visually spectacular set pieces is limited, yet this actually proves to be something of a blessing. Winnie's visions are skillfully crafted sequences, the enclosed setting actually adding to the foreboding atmosphere; it's just a shame the narrative can't match up to the film's visual prowess.
The screener sent for review lacked any extras, save for a number of trailers for forthcoming attractions from Image Entertainment. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is far from impressive. As with most screener copies, I expect the final retail copy to be a much-improved affair. The picture quality here was often quite soft, with detail levels being lower that I'd expect from such a recent film. The washed-out colors are likely to be the result of a stylistic choice, but, coupled with the softness of the image, the DVD lacked the technical chops to match up to the artistry on display. Though I detected little use of the rear speakers, the 5.1 Mandarin soundtrack does a fine job. Characters often speak in hushed tones, but the clarity of the dialogue remains strong. The score, which does a good job of creating a menacing atmosphere, is also well represented.
Despite excellent performances all round and an impressive look, the Pang Brothers seriously disappoint with Diary. Time and again the Pang Brothers have shown themselves to be two of the most interesting filmmakers working today, but if they don't slow down and put more thought into their features, their name is going to lose its allure.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Mandarin)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R