June 10, 2002 - June 16, 2002
SECTION: FILM REVIEWS; Pg. 34
LENGTH: 771 words
Double Vision (Shuang Tong)
BYLINE: DEREK ELLEY
A Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia presentation of a Nan Fang FilmProds. production. (International sales: Columbia TriStar Film Distributors
Intl., Culver City, Calif.) Executive producer, Chen Kuo-fu.
Directed by Chen Kuo-fu. Screenplay, Su Chao-pin, Chen. Camera (Fujicolor, Panavision widescreen), Arthur Wong; editor, Wen Ze-ming; music, Lee Sin-yun; production designer, Tim Yip; art directors, Ringo Fung, Eddie Wong, Silver Cheung; costume designer, Yip; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS), Paul Pirola, Andrew Neil; digital effects, Peter Webb; stunt coordinator, Tony Leung Siu-hung; associate producer, Wei De-shen; assistant director, Lin Chi-shiang. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 20, 2002. Running time: 113 MIN.
Kevin Richter ..... David Morse
Huang Huo-tu ..... Tony Leung Kar-fai
Ching-fang ..... Rene Liu
Li Feng-po ..... Leon Dai
Coroner ..... Yang Kwei-mei
Mei-mei ..... Huang Wei-han
Taoist Expert ..... Sihung Lung
(Mandarin, English and Hokkien dialogue)
Many of the ingredients are in place but the blood refuses to chill when watching Double Vision, a Taiwanese attempt at the Japanese-patented "psycho-horror" genre; pic suffers from a blurred script and a serious lack of onscreen chemistry between its actors. Still, until it jumps the rails in the final reels, this is a workmanlike, sometimes effective serial-killer crime drama with limited theatrical potential in East Asia and almost none in Western markets.
Pic is an intriguing oddity. It is the first all-out commercial venture by Chen Kuo-fu, a former critic who's made four rather arty movies, the best of which is "The Personals," one of the finest Taiwanese pics of the '90s. But any doubts that Chen wouldn't come up with the commercial, widescreen goods
are dispelled straightaway by the rapidly paced opening.
After a grisly Caesarian birth whose significance is explained only in pic's coda, we meet a group of tough, no-nonsense Taipei cops beating a confession out of a suspect. Their leader is detective Li Feng-po (Leon Dai). Also in the building, but busted down to foreign affairs officer after blowing the whistle on his buddies, is inspector Huang Huo-tu (H.K. thesp Tony Leung
Wong's classy, mobile camerawork keeps things looking good as the first murder is discovered --- the chairman of a corrupt chemical company is found
in his 17th floor office, mysteriously dead by drowning .
Next to die under strange circumstances is a politician's mistress, barbecued in her apartment; and then an American cleric is found eviscerated and re-stitched in his own church with a Taoist symbol tattooed on his
Lacking expertise in tracking serial killers, the Taiwan authorities ignore political pressure and call in an expert from the FBI, Kevin Richter (David Morse), who teams with Huang. The pair follows a trail that leads from mind-bending fungus through a weird Taoist sect run by ex-businessmen to a
finale in which Huang's inner demons are exposed and turned against him.
Pic starts to develop problems with the appearance of Richter, a character so obviously stitched into the movie for foreign marketing purposes that the seams still show. After some initial Westerner-in-Taiwan shtick, Richter's main purpose in the script is to discover crucial plot-moving evidence . Best thing that can be said for Morse's perf as the burnt-out-looking specialist is that it doesn't dominate the movie, especially in the actor's
Leung largely phones in his performance as the cop with marital and career problems and a horrific past incident involving his young daughter (Huang Wei-han). Though in a much smaller part, Dai is a more vivid screen presence as the hard-nosed cop who --- in one of the movie's best scenes --- quietly
wonders whether the case they're on is actually solvable.
It's not, according to the script as presented here, which is often garbled and illogical, and spins off into a Chinese ghost movie in the labored final reels. That's nothing new for a slice of pure genre cinema, but Chen's overall direction, though always photogenic, lacks the necessary oomph and
sustained atmosphere to bring off the flights of fancy.
Rene Liu, so good in The Personals, is wasted in a token role as Huang's wife, whom he is about to divorce. Tsai Ming-liang regular Yang Kwei-mei has some straight-faced fun with the part of a coroner but, like Liu, she's pure decoration . Best-known for his roles in Ang Lee's movies, veteran Sihung Lung, who died recently, guests reliably as a Taoist expert.
LOAD-DATE: June 14, 2002