Review © Larry D Burns, 2003.

Directed by Chen Kuo Fu, 2002, 110 min. starring Tony Leung, David Morse, Rene Liu, Sihung Lung, Kuei-Mei Yang, Wei-Han Huang, and Dai Li Zen.

With all the talk about Hollywood Studios invading Asia, there is, of course,the downside of Hollywoodizing Asian films. The trend of Asian remakes is bombing along at a frighteningly high rate, so it seems bothersome to a few that the US studio system might take the inherent mystique out of domestic Asian films when they infiltrate Asian film studios.

With the newly minted Asian division of Columbia Tri-Star finally up and running, it seems that now is the time to develop fresh, international quality films with a decidedly Asian flavor for the international market. With the actioneer So Close already under their belt, they've chosen to fund a horror film for this outing. What we get in turn is not so much a scare-you-out-of-your-pants-a-minute flick, but a thought-provoking character study between two clashing cultures, religions, and beliefs.

So, the final result of the Hollywood system infiltrating Asian cinema is never so apparent than in Double Vision (aka Shuang Tong), a slick, stylish, and technically sound feature that presents us the religion and mysticism of Asian beliefs, yet creates a fast-paced, action-packed atmosphere worthy of any David Fincher film. Yet, lost in the quick-cut editing is the true essence of the film – fear. No feeling of dread, no prickly hairs at the back of your neck, not even a discussion-worthy resolution. Perhaps it is not the intention of the filmmaker to astound or creep out viewers, but whatever result he was looking for, one doesn’t find it here. Instead, what we do get is a hodgepodge of several movie ideas rolled into one - a package that’s a little hard to swallow.

Synopsis

“In all your years in the FBI, you have never encountered a demon before?”

The Chairman of a major chemical corporation is found dead in a high-rise building; upon investigation of the body, he is believed to have drowned in icy water - in his 17th-floor office. A beautiful woman calls the fire department for help as her apartment is engulfed in flames. In response, she is found dead on the floor, showing all the physical signs of someone who has burned to death, but there are no apparent signs of a fire at her apartment. And a foreign priest is viciously murdered and mutilated in the bedroom of his church. Upon his belly, a strange Taoist marking is found.

These strange occurrences have nothing in common except two things – the victims were all involved in something immoral, and they were all found with a strange mould fungus in their thalamus, the nerve center of the brain.

Thrust into this unusual situation are two even more unusual allies. Huang Huo Tu (Tony Leung) is a cop who works for the foreign affairs department of the police force. His life is falling apart. His wife is divorcing him. His daughter can no longer speak after a harrowing hostage-situation brought about by circumstances of her father speaking out against corruption in the police force. And to make things worse, he’s deemed a total loser by his colleagues. However, given his extensive knowledge of the English language, he is assigned to partner with American FBI Agent Kevin Richter (David Morse) to get to the bottom of things - forensically, that is. Immediately, the two find themselves in a highly unusual predicament.

After the initial friction with the local police department, Richter requests to see the crime scene of the dead priest. There he discovers a hollowed-out pellet embedded in the air-conditioning unit. As the pellet is analyzed, they discover the same mould found in the victim’s brains has been bored into the pellet, causing it to dissipate into the victims’ bodies through the air-conditioning units.

As the two investigate further, they seek the help of a social anthropologist to identify the Taoist marking found on the dead priest’s body. It is revealed to be the symbol of the True Sage Temple, a recently discovered ancient temple in China. Found with it are several stone carvings and symbols that don’t seem to make sense, even when translated to modern Chinese characters. The doctor explains to the duo that in Taoism, these particular carvings are held to be the key to seeing into the past and the future.

That night, while fidgeting with the said markings, Huo Tu figures out a way to make sense of the riddle before him. Using the diagrams, he is able to find the names of the first three victims, and partially predict the name of the fourth victim. But in a city with hundreds of thousands of people, that might take a while.

To further complicate matters, the samples of the mould sent to the FBI HQ leave them as baffled as the Hong Kong Police Force. The mould isn’t actually mould at all, but a bug-born fungus that attaches itself to a person’s brain, causing them to hallucinate, make them feel they were drowning or being consumed by fire. With this revelation, they are more baffled than ever.

Meanwhile, a dark van travels down a road and a traffic incident goes awry, causing two murders. As the police investigate, they discover a body in the back, with its heart torn out, and a Taoist talisman embedded in the wound. This leads Huo Tu to realize that indeed something sinister is behind all this mayhem, a theory that Richter finds preposterous.

Sticking by his beliefs, Huo Tu visits the good anthropologist once again, this time armed with more detailed crime-scene photos. The doctor realizes then that the culprit wants to attain immortality. It is said that there are five stages of hell in Taoism: Frigid Hell, Fire Hell, Disembowelment Hell, Heart-Extracting Hell, and Tongue-Removal Hell. Once a person passes through these stages, he will attain immortality in the sixth stage.

He also tells of an ancient legend about a warrior who attempted to achieve immortality by killing off "half-humans" – morally corrupt beings who are neither fully human nor ghost. The legend states that the warrior had double pupils that enabled him to see for miles in the day, and identify ghosts at night; and that whoever attempts to gain immortality in this way must be gravely ill, for only in grave illness can one achieve real awakening.

As Huo Tu and Richter continue their investigation, they trace the van the heart-extraction victim was found in to a once major hi-tech company owned by two highly educated individuals who at some point got caught up in religion and became so fanatical they shipped an entire temple in piece by piece from mainland China.

As the police proceed to raid the location of the temple situated at the top floor of a metropolitan building, a fight breaks out, causing massive casualties both from the police force and members of the cult. Investigating their temple, they discover a young girl hidden beneath the ground. Appearing sickly and barely breathing, they find a wound on her stomach, and immediately call an ambulance to get her to a hospital.

While there, the police inform Huo Tu that one of the leaders of the True Sage Cult has confessed to the murders, and that the girl was sick to begin with. She is suffering from a benign brain tumor, deemed inoperable, and the wound on her stomach has been used to cultivate a bug-born fungus. All fingers point to the True Sage Cult, and the case is declared closed.

But just when things seem to be at a resolution, the fifth and final victim surfaces, and this is when things get very confusing. Who is the little girl in the temple? What happens now that the five stages of hell have been passed? What follows will definitely throw you for a loop and make you say “Wha?”

Although technically flawless and superbly acted, Double Vision falls short on many accounts. Firstly, the plot really isn’t that concrete; throwing too many scientific, mystic, and philosophic beliefs into the mix, it turns out to be a hodgepodge of ideas. Secondly, there really isn’t a resolution at the end. Maybe one may theorize about the ending, but I won’t present my own theory here.

Thirdly, there was no consistency in the motives of the victims. Some were voluntary, some were chosen, some happened by accident. It’s very difficult to establish a point of believability with the plot line. Finally, there were just too many unnecessary scenes in the movie that if taken out, would’ve moved the story along better.

Having said that, the film does have its share of positive points. It’s very well made. The musical score is haunting. The director knows just what to get out of his actors without them going overboard. And it’s great to look at: clean, constructed, and cool. Perhaps it’s these qualities that make it just like any other Hollywood film, therefore losing its Asian edge.

All in all, Double Vision succeeds in giving us another glimpse at Asian filmmaking. If they could find a way to incorporate this newfound sleek look with unadulterated edge that Asian movies have become known for, then that would be awesome!

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 8/10
Chills: 8/10
Violence: 8/10
Sex: 0/10
Super-Confusing Endings: you wha-???/10
Unconvincing Dismemberments: chop!-thump!-aaargh!/10
Scary Taoist Temples: 1
Double Vision: you need bifocals, mate ;-)
Litres of Tomato Ketchup: a veritable convoy of Taiwanese tankers of the stuff
Films in a Similar Style: Inner Senses, The Eye, Another Heaven, X Files (?! strange but true)

***Recommended***

Double Vision Wallpaper

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Larry D. Burns, 2003


Snowblood Apple Filmographies


Chen Kuo Fu
Tony Leung
David Morse
Rene Liu

Links

http://www.doublevisionmovie.com/ - official Flash site, with loads of beautiful images, a streaming trailer, movie clips, synopsis, cast/crew info, e-cards, wallpapers and screensavers - pretty darn comprehensive!
http://www.comingsoon.net/movies/d/doublevision.php - you can download one of those trailers here by right-clicking and save-target-as
http://www.lovehkfilm.com/panasia/double_vision.htm - LoveHKFilm's take on the film, with technical details and notes
http://www.sanchodoesasia.com/schi/schi_double_vision.php - the kind of quality we have all come to expect from Sancho - great images, great review [French only]
http://www.nixflix.com/reviews/doublevision.htm - a very long and indepth review, much after the same tone as ours :-)
http://www.kfccinema.com/reviews/horror/doublevision/doublevision.html - KFC Cinema. Need I say more?
http://www.kpworld.com/movie/movies.php?name=DoubleVision - Chinese page dedicated to the movie, with lots of smart-looking press photos and posters for download [Chinese only]
http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/moviemania/reviews/0,3946,153135,00.html - a positive review of the movie
http://www.heroic-cinema.com/films/double_vision.htm - and a not-quite-so-positive one
http://www.offoffoff.com/film/2003/doublevision.php - very well-written and open-minded opinion of the movie
http://asianfilmweb.de/filme/d/doublevision.php - Asian Film Web's review, with some nice pictures but an very nice (and unfortunately unclickable) poster

this review (c) Larry D Burns, 2003. all other text and webdesign (c) 2002, 2003 M. Apple Collingridge. All characters, situations and images remain the property of their respective owners. The text and webdesign of this site may not be copied, reproduced, mirrored, printed commercially or ripped off in any other way. Do not hotlink directly to images hosted on this site.