Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gui si / Silk (Taiwan, 2006)

"I have one question for you. If there really are ghosts, why do they always have clothes on?"
James the Photographer (Kevin S. Smith)

Written and directed by Chao-Bin Su, this expensive-looking Taiwanese film is an odd breed indeed: a modern day, earthbound sci-fi ghost story. No haunted spaceships or virus-induced mutations here, however; instead, there’s a lot of contrived mumbo-jumbo about the "Menger Sponge," some sort of special invention that captures energy and allows you to hold conversations on the ceiling of a room, as Hashimoto (Yôsuke Eguchi of Anaza hevun / Another Heaven [2000 / trailer]), the handsome but crazed and life-hating crippled scientist that invented it mentions at least twice. But if you take the material that the Menger Sponge is made of and dilute it in water and spray it into your eyes, you can see dead people! (Ghosts, after all, are merely manifestations of energy.) Spray it all over a room, and you can even trap a ghost. Spray it on bullets, and you might not kill the ghost but you can get its attention. (Believe it or not, it all makes more sense in the film—sorta.)
When Hashimoto and team manage to entrap the ghost of a little boy (Kuan-Po Chen), they bring in wonder cop Tung (Chen Chang of Wo hu cang long / Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon [2000 / trailer] and John Woo’s Chi bi / Red Cliff [2008 / trailer] and Chi bi xia: Jue zhan tian xia / Red Cliff II [2009 / trailer]) to read the ghostly lips. Thanks to Tung's fabulous lip reading skills, the fab sharpshooter and top detective soon unravels the story behind the death of the boy. (Too bad that the little kid has the tendency to kill anyone who looks at him.) When the project gets shut down, Hashimoto goes over the edge and kidnaps the ghost, much to the rage of the ghost of the ghost boy's just deceased mother (Fang Wan), who now begins killing everyone on the team one after the other. Can Tung save his own life and that of his main squeeze?
So where does the name Silk come from? Well, probably from the fact that it sounds a lot better than "Thread" or "Strand." The name refers to the thin, virtually invisible silky thread of energy that connects the killing ghost to its victim to be. (Virtually invisible it may be, but Tung has no problems following it down the streets as he barrels along at full speed in his car—that dude has some good eyesight.) Supposedly the ghost only kills when you look it in the eyes, but this concept is shaky from the start and then gets completely tossed by the time the ghostly momma shows up to go on a rampage: she takes victims from behind and through soup bowls, eye-contact or not. Similar narrative lapses pop up a couple of times in the movie, but luckily the film is made and acted well enough that the slip-ups don't immediately jump in your face; it's only after the flick is over that the many irregularities suddenly start coming to mind.
Indeed, it is thanks to director Chao-Bin Su's excellent control over both his actors and his camera that Silk remains engrossing from beginning to end instead of aggravating, but his story is simply too tangled to hold water or be fully effective. He would have probably been better served had he simply made two films, a sci-fi and a ghost flick, instead of this odd amalgamation that overflows from too many threads that don't tie into a neat knot. (One question the film posits without fully answering, for example, is whether one can suddenly see a ghost because one has pissed on it, or whether a ghost can suddenly decide to make someone see them when pissed on or pissed off. And the ghostly heart massage that enables the half-way happy end is also a less than logical final act of the homicidal boy ghost.)
In short, Silk is a well acted, well directed and engrossing film that doesn't lack in scary, eye-catching, suspenseful and/or shocking scenes, but its plot has as many gaps as a spider web. If you can accept that, you’ll probably find it worthwhile viewing; those that like their tales half-way watertight, however, might prefer to skip the flick, no matter how well made it is.

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