Friday, February 09, 2007

Silk (Taiwan, 2006)


For a horror/ghost story that doesn’t really have a true scare in it, I thought this was one of the best in this genre that I have seen for a few years. It is really more a thriller that just happens to center on the supernatural and its fast pace, intriguing premise and moments of pathos kept me fully involved in the rapidly unfolding plot. It is very slick – quite commercial - very expensive for a Taiwanese film (the most expensive at the time) - directed by Su Chao-pin who scripted Double Vision – and was unexpectedly chosen to participate in the Official Selection at Cannes. It got a bit of a critical bashing by some such as Variety and disappeared from sight to some degree. The ending admittedly gets more than a bit soggy in sentimentality but until then it keeps you in chilly anticipation and on edge all the while.

Hashimoto (Yosuke Eguchi) leads a small team that is sponsored by the Japanese government and in co-operation with other governments to search around the world for ghosts. Whenever there is a rumor of an apparition he sends a gweilo photographer to try and capture it on film. He is able to do this with an invention of his – an anti-gravity device called the Menger Sponge. This not only allows him to see ghosts – which are pure protein by the way – by putting drops in his eyes but it also enables him to seal one off and observe it. The obsessive Hashimoto’s intentions are murky and suspect as he searches for the nebulous space between life and death. The photographer films a young boy ghost in a worn tenement building in Taipei and pays for the experience dearly with his grisly death – but the team arrives on time to seal the ghost in and watch it.

Where the ghost came from and who it was is an enigma and Hashimoto pulls in another team member – a Taipei police sharpshooter and lip reader, Tung (Chen Chang) – to help him unravel the mystery. The ghost thrives on energy and anger and they need to understand why. As they get closer to an answer, Tung begins to realize that in fact there is very much a link between the living and the dead – a fine long slender piece of silk that connects them – and he also begins to realize that all of their lives are very much in peril. As a seeming side story but one that eventually proves vital, Tung along with his hoped for girlfriend, Wei (Karena Lam), look after his comatose mother in the hospital and he searches for spiritual answers to whether he should let her live or die.

Much of this is obvious silliness, but the film never gives you time to doubt its story arc as it races from beginning to end in complete seriousness and though it contains no real scares, there is a fair amount of crawling tension. It also contains one moment of such utter sadness that it suddenly becomes much more than just another ghost story. Thankfully, the film avoids any of the recent Asian long haired horror tropes with this original and clever script of science perhaps intruding where it has no right to and of our never-ending need for answers about the other side of life. For those who are Karena Lam fans, you should be warned that her role is surprisingly small and very passive – this is really Chang’s film and he is terrific as a fast thinking problem solving cop with a steady shooting hand – sort of a modern day Wisely.

My rating for this film: 8.0

3 comments:

YTSL said...

In view of how differently we feel about CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER, THE HOST and AMELIE, it's nice to know that you appear to like SILK as much as I did! And yes, would agree that Chang Chen was terrific in this particular Taiwanese offering. :)

Brian said...

I am just happy that your opinion is right for a change! Hadn't realized you had seen this - in the theater?

YTSL said...

Yup re having viewed SILK in the cinema. (It played in Malaysia in late 2006.)