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Original Title:
Mon seung

Hong Kong 2006

Thriller, Horror

Oxide Pang

Charlene Choi
Shawn Yue
Isabella Leong

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Story: Winnie Leung (Charlene Choi) works at a perfumery and spends most of her time in her dark flat, where she persues her hobbies of carving wooden puppets and writing diary. Actually, she has a boyfriend, but the last few days he almost didn't speak one single word to her. When she even doesn't get through to him on his cell phone and realizes that he took all of his things out of her flat, there is no doubt anymore that he left her for good - without a word of parting.
As times goes by, it's easy to make out that Winnie's psychotic episodes and her schizophrenia are to be blamed that her boyfriend Seth left her. Winnie has only her friend Yvonne (Isabella Leong) left to talk to, but soon it all changes for the better. Winnie meets businessman Ray (Shawn Yue) and the two slowly become a couple. However, the relationship isn't build for long as Ray with time loses interest in his girlfriend, since she is always talking about Seth and doesn't seem to be able to forget him. But it gets even worse, as Winnie frequently loses touch with reality. Fact and fiction mix up to an inscrutable medley...

Review: The newest movie of the Pang brothers is "Diary". Oxide Pang once again takes a seat on the director's chair and proves his finesse for the right cinematography and editing. Unfortunately, Pang also proves the impression right that I have of him for a long time already: He and is brother are absolutely overrated. After their impressive "Re-cyle" this voice in my head became really quiet, but here it is again! And not without a reason...

"Diary" is one of those psycho thrillers that are oftentimes categorized as horror movies, but actually don't belong there. Despite the tense atmosphere the film won't make you cry out in fear, and moreover in the end the story isn't as clever as it pretends to be. There are lots of revelations and surprises, but most of them are to be uncovered by the audience in advance. Ultimately, it shows that the makers of "Diary" put more emphasis on style than substance, and that's very unfortunate...

Pang's newest work definitely looks promising. Even at the beginning we realize that we have to expect a rather slow-paced film, but the pictures are really breathtaking, that's for sure. The dark, dreary flat of Winnie is the setting where a great part of the movie takes place, and yet it is so nicely (I should say, "gloomily") captured that it is not a shortcoming that there are only few other places to be seen in the film.
It is really apparent that Pang is still resorting to his thai movie-artist friends and that he still knows his stuff he learnt in Thailand. Yes, he indeed even gets better and better in what he is doing. The lighting of the scenes is very dusky, as if only an old dirty light bulb is illuminating the room. The dark green filter makes everything look even more abandoned than it actually is, and so the movie is really captivating thanks to its great atmosphere and mood. Even if it is sometimes (a bit too) depressing.

What's also great is the way Pang cuts and edits certain scenes or implements jump-cuts. Everything just fits together perfectly and so you can only be very impressed by the technical superiority of this film. Everything looks well produced and appealing. There are even some small CGI-effects that found their way into the movie, for example when a dark cloud slowly crawls into Winnie's room or when a wooden puppet suddenly is imbued with unholy life and starts to walk behind Winnie.
Even the soundtrack is over-the-top. Nice melodies accompany the events on screen, only to suddenly burst into a musical and disturbing sound-chaos. Especially the music and sound effects in general really add to the atmosphere, and very effectively and in a pleasent haunting manner underscore Winnie's psychosis.

However, this doesn't change the fact that the rest just can't satisfy. The story is told way too slow and offers nearly no real events. Anyway, this would be bearable, if it weren't for the matter that we know right from the beginning that Winnie is mentally disordered. Her schizophrenic and paranoid behavior is already depicted very early on and so concerning the thrill factor the only question left is to what extent Winnie is crazy. Does her new boyfriend Ray really exist? And what about her friend Yvonne? What really happened to Seth? These are all questions that will accompany you the whole movie through and which answers in the end retrospectively prove to be rather obvious.
To give the movie some credit, there are some nice ideas, especially as we never really know if storytelling-wise we are watching reality or are just visitors of Winnie's own world. Some of the diary entries of the protagonist guide us as headlines through the movie and there is one certain one that is particularly interesting, as it suggests that Winnie is living her diary entries subsequently.

After an hour there is finally an increase in the movie's tension and we are served with a few nice twists, which however shouldn't catch any fan of the genre off-guard. Here, Pang makes his biggest mistake, as he loses himself in an accumulation of revelations of which the subsequent one is always less spectacular than the one before. But this is all forgiveable compared to the way the narcissist who calls himself Pang shows his admiration for his own work, which is apparent the whole film through and gets its climax in the credits "Produced by Pang Brothers" right in the middle of the movie!
If Pang would have stopped after the first few twists the movie could have gotten its act together, but the way it is the story towards the end comes to nothing and thus somehow we get the feeling of being cheated.

Charlene Choi ("The Twins Effect"), one half of the always present "Twins"-Popgroup, really isn't the one to blame this time. She proves that there is actually acting talent hidden in her, because she masters the role of the mentally disordered girl very convincingly. Who would have thought... It's just questionable if her fans really want to see her in a role like this or aren't rather desperately waiting for her next Wong-Jing comedy... However, for her courage she really deserves some respect, especially on the part of the twins-haters.
Shawn Yue's ("Infernal Affairs", "Initial D") acting sadly remains very shallow, which is yet mainly to be blamed on his role. What's really disappointing is Isabella Leong's ("Isabella") very short screen presence. Her talent is absolutely wasted, here.

"Diary" is disappointing in a lot of respects. The pacing is too slow, one could have made more out of the plot and as already mentioned the movie as a whole is just too much in love with itself. At least technically top, the film can make you feel quite depressed thanks to its dreary atmosphere - if this is really what you want.
After seeing the movie I actually had problems sleeping, which is normally a good sign for a good horror flick, but this time it really has to be doubted that it was the making of, in this case "Diary". Nevertheless, the mood of the movie has something distressing to it, which can be somehow fascinating. Good will, Choi's extraordinary good acting achievement and Pang's technical expertise let me give an "ok", even if barely so. Still, this is no film you have to see.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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