Written and directed by Chao-Pin Su. Taiwan 2006. 118 mins.
Reportedly the most expensive film ever shot in Taiwan at $6m, Silk begins promisingly but ends up as a curiously inert Asian shocker
Part of the problem is that Silk is not content just to be a horror movie - its schmaltzy loveplot and portentous life-after-death psychobabble are presumably designed to broaden the film’s audience appeal, but end updiluting its core fright business.
Still, Silk’s pan-Asian cast should give it a leg up in Hong Kong, mainland China, Korea and Japan, and box office could turn out to be resilient, despite the film’s lack of genre backbone. Prospects outside of Asia look dim,however, as Silk is too smooth for niche horror markets and too hokey for the art house.
The premise is neat: a secret team with links to the Taiwanese government has succeeded in capturing the ghost of a 13-year-old boy, first noted by a spook-chasing photographer who meets a sticky end after the spirit shows up in one of his exposures. Soon Building 17, the sinister, isolated apartment block where the sighting took place, is cordoned off, and the boy’s home - a bareroom in an apartment on the top floor -becomes a glass-walled ghost-watching observatory, staffed by a team presided over by disabled scientist Hashimoto (Yosuke Eguchi). Against the wishes of his tough but sexy assistant Su Yuen (Barbie Hsu), Hashimoto drafts in local detective and marksman Ye Chi-tung (Chang Chen, a Wong Kar-wai regular), whose razor-sharp eyesight and legendary lip-reading abilities may solve the mystery of who the boy was.
Sentimental chords, highlighted by Peter Kam’s lush score, are struck by Ye’s relationship with girlfriend Du Jia-wei (Karena Lam, wasted here) and his coma-bound mother.But a brewing conflict between Ye and a jealous Su suffers an abrupt end when she becomes the ghost boy’s second victim: a shame, because pop star Hsu has the presence (and the looks) of a Ziyi Zhang. Once she’s out of the picture what tension there’s left resides in Hachimoto’s sparring with his ministry boss (who wants tot ake him off the job) and Ye’s slow uncovering of the ghost boy’s tear-jerking backstory.
The film’s title refers to the strand of silk that ghosts apparently secrete:a device that seems to have been chosen purely for its FX potential. Abarely comprehensible tech substructure is founded on the multi-purpose ’Menger Sponge’, a small cube that not only defies gravity, but captures energyand - when sprayed on the eyes in handy aerosol form - allows researchers to see invisible spirit forms.
There is some comfort in the polished look of the exercise, the result of acollaboration between veteran Hong Kong DoPArthur Wong (Ultraviolet, The Floating Landscape) and equally experienced Japanese production designer Yohei Taneda (Kill Bill).Wong’swork here has a limpid, photographic, Chris Doyle quality, and Taneda excels himself in the design of Building 17, turning a modern apartment block into a creepy haunted house. And the special effects are professional enough. But although there are some gory moments, the film lacks the sheer psychic tension of Asian horror classics.
CMCEnterprises, Unit 9 Pictures