(Sei Mong Se Jun)
Ab-Normal Beauty ventures into a mini-genre of films dealing with perverse female fetishes. We have seen similar works in recent years with the likes of Kissed (1996) and In My Skin (2002), which deal with respectively women who have necrophiliac and self-mutilation obsessions. Ab-Normal Beauty ventures into some applaudably perverse territory in this regard we watch Race Wong getting a butcher to chops the heads off chickens for her and arranging dead birds on the sidewalk. Especially good is a charged scene where she gets Anson Leung to strip for her, throws a bucket of red paint over him and then starts seducing him before producing a knife, all the while taking photos.
On the other hand, Ab-Normal Beauty tends to be an opaque film. While Oxide Pang does a fine job in placing us inside Race Wongs obsessions, he does little-to-nothing to explain any of them. He overdoses on fragmented editing and jagged camerawork to represent Race Wongs state of mind. We get flash fantasies of her imagining blood running down a nude during life drawing class, seeing the photos in her darkroom dripping in blood, images of her putting a white mask across her face and her reflection fracturing although for all this, we get very little idea of what Race is thinking during these scenes, just Oxide Pang signalling loudly and clearly that she is in a disturbed state of mind (as though obsessively photographing dead bodies and getting someone to slaughter chickens in front of her camera did not already let clue us into this). Psychologists agree that most sexual philias are ones that are embedded in the mind at an early age but Race Wongs necrophiliac obsession seems to manifest out of the blue one day and there is nothing more to it than that. None of the fractured camerawork and lighting gives us many clues as to why and as a result the obsession seems to take place at a remote distance.
One of the other odd things about Ab-Normal Beauty is how Oxide Pang seems to coyly dance around specifying the exact nature of the relationship between the two girls. The film seems to imply that they are lesbians Race Wong says she does not like boys, Rosanne Wong gets jealous of Anson Leungs attentions to Race and they call one another girlfriends but equally they could just be close friends. It is not until one watches the dvd extras where Oxide comes out and confirms they are gay that this is clarified someone watching Ab-Normal Beauty without seeing the extras could merely mistake them for being two best friends.
Where Ab-Normal Beauty does work is where Oxide (and Danny) characteristically achieve their best creating scenes of haunting emotional intensity and otherworldly suspense. Standout is one scene where Race Wong hangs on the balcony of an apartment and swings back and forth on the outside of the railing, letting her body hang from one hand as she swings through the air in an arc to catch herself with the other hand. The suicide scene has a wonderfully subtle cool a woman is spotted on top of a building, Oxide cuts away to reactions shots from the crowd below and then back to show that the woman is no longer there, then follows the arc that Race Wongs clicking camera makes as it follows the off-camera body down to the ground, where we then see the body hitting the ground in the background and Race being the only one to move forward to photography it as the crowd behind her backs away in shock. The film has some incredibly rich lighting schemes with the screen frequently being drenched in colour saturations.
The last third of Ab-Normal Beauty moves away from the opaque mix of perverse obsessions and ambiguous girly friendships and into the grim territory of snuff movies. For a time, the film seems to be heading along the lines of the start of David Lynchs Lost Highway (1997) in the scenes with Race Wong finding mysterious videotape packages on her doorstep. The film arrives at an intense climax with Race made a prisoner by a masked killer where she manages to turn the tables on him by enjoying the process of her torture, before he hangs himself in her chains as they reach forward to kiss one another. Oxide creates a series of atmospheric scenes in the cellar where she is imprisoned in a chair surrounded by cameras with the killer in a mediaeval metal mask and everything shot in sickly green lighting. There is something to these scenes very much akin to the same years Saw (2004). The sequence is only marred by an anti-climactic revelation of the killers identity.
(Nominee for Best Cinematography at this sites Best of 2004 Awards).