Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Apostles (2014)

Original title: 詭鎮

Ever since she had a car accident, writer Lu Yun (Josie Ho) has suffered from selective memory loss, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and nightmares in survival horror videogame style about pig people and a guy who has no resemblance to Pyramid Head at all, no sir. Her mental health certainly doesn’t improve when her husband Zhang Shiquan dies in a plane crash while returning from what Lu Yun believes to have been a business trip (though she isn’t quite clear on the kind of business her hubby was actually in).

When a guy named Han Bin (Xia Fan) whose wife (Zhou Chu-Chu) has died in the same plane crash finds Zhang Shiquan’s cellphone among his wife’s belongings and manages to get at the cell’s data, he learns that she and Zhang Shiquan’s husband must have had an affair. Han Bin decides to travel to the small village the cell data points to, in the hope of finding out what was actually going on between the two. He invites Lu Yun along, in what sounds either like a Very Bad Idea or the set-up for an awkward romance movie. Not surprisingly, weird, disturbing and inadvertently hilarious things start happening.

I honestly don’t know if Joe Chie(n)’s horror/melodrama/SF/boondocks horror/weird shit/mindfuck genre-bender is actually meant to be taken seriously; what I do know is that it is a pleasant return to Chinese genre cinema being bat-shit insane and more than just a bit incoherent, something I’ve rather missed in the many failed attempts at retooling Chinese and Hong Kong cinema into putting out things that look and feel exactly like Hollywood blockbusters, but worse.

It is not, on paper, what you’d call a good movie, seeing as it just seems to just throw every element of multiple genres it can think of at the wall in the hope something of it will stick, quite disinterested in building up, if not a coherent plot, then a coherent mood. Tonally, this is wildly fluctuating between awkward attempts at psychological horror, random action, videogame-y dream sequences, and finally moments that reminded me a bit of the Inframan approach to supernatural threats just without the henshin hero (or sense). If that sounds pretty awesome and entertaining to you, you’ll be probably be entertained, and often wildly surprised by the random turn events take next, until everything culminates in a preposterous double twist that doesn’t even go through the motions of pulling everything together decently. However, at that point, the film does achieve a small wonder by reaching the curious success of letting a “it was all a dream/hallucination” ending sound much more reasonable in the context of what came before than the stuff we actually get. Doesn’t mean I wasn’t giggling with glee throughout, which is not a reaction I usually have to incompetently set up twist endings.

Visually, the film is all over the place. Sometimes, Chie manages to build an effective sense of place, or makes the dream sequences and break-ins of complete weirdness feel truly dream-like and truly strange. At other times, the film’s just a mess of sloppy editing and bad CGI. Of course, given the random and incoherent tone of everything the director – and writer, so he only has to blame himself - has to turn into pictures here, it’s hardly avoidable that things do not cohere. In fact, I can imagine the film actually losing something of his exhilarating-by-sheer-bone-headedness effect if it were more consistent on the visual side; it’s after all three or four different movies rammed together in a crash, so it makes sense that it does look that way, too.

While all the randomness and weird crap is going on around her, Josie Ho (one of the actresses in China and Hong Kong of her generation most variable in her roles and consistent in her ability to portray them, if you ask me), really gets her teeth into her role, sometimes reacting to the stuff and nonsense surrounding her with absolutely believable confusion, at other times ranting and raving and breaking down with the best of them, her panicked and wounded expression building the only consistent element in the film, the one thing that actually feels real about the beautiful mess that is The Apostles.

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