Re-Cycle (2006)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2011-08-20
Summary: Nicely scary
What was that all about? Damned if I know, but I do know that the Pang Brothers “Recycle” is a movie that operates on several levels and works on some of them. Its most obvious messages (and therefore the ones to be trusted the least) are: don’t abort your fetuses, don’t neglect your parents, don’t execute prisoners. There also seems to be admonitions to not give up while doing something worthwhile and to finish what you start. There may be advice regarding cleaning your plate at dinner and crossing the street only at marked intersections. “Recycle” is full of tips on how to live a good life and avoid the pitfalls of self-indulgence and antisocial behavior. So the didactic level is full of preachy moralizing and instructions regarding good intentions. The last 20 minutes of the film could be recut just a bit and run as an anti-abortion polemic for Right to Life organizational recruitment.

As things being we become acquainted with Ting Yin an author feeling pressure because her idiot publicist has announced her next book even though she is barely started on it. Her first and only book so far has been a surprise best-seller and has been made into a popular movie but she is having trouble with the second. Her anxiety may stem from fear that she can no longer write; she has writer’s block due to her dread that the creativity and discipline necessary to produce another big novel--we find tangentially that her first was a three volume behemoth. Yin is vulnerable, unsure of herself, fearful of the future, uncomfortable in the present and distrustful of the past. She is a perfect target for either manipulation as in “Gaslight”, mental breakdown as in “Repulsion” or attack by zombies in too many films to mention.

“Recycle” isn’t a horror movie as such although it has aspects of the venerable genre: zombies, ghostly apparitions and scary grandmothers. There are a lot of frightening moments for Ting Yin and the audience although they are more of the “what was that noise in an empty apartment” than of the flesh chomping fiend type. One extended sequence begins with Ting Yin washing her face in the bathroom—a bathroom with a translucent wall that reminds one (at least it reminded me) of a shower stall. When she returns to the bathroom after a slow and creepy inspection of her apartment—it is one of these huge apartments that exist mainly in films with lots of room and at least two levels, all for one person) the water in the shower is running and the shower curtain pulled across the bathtub. Here, we think, will be the “Psycho” payoff. When she reached out to pull back the curtain we expected her to find something horrible but there was nothing but running water.

Toward the end of the film the shadow of a child flits across the wall behind Ting Yin as she is trying to re-orient herself after waking from a fearsome nightmare. Based on what we had seen it made me think of the heart in the mouth moment in “Repulsion” when Catherine Deneuve closed a closet door that had a mirror hanging from it. As the door swung shut the mirror showed, just for a moment, the figure of a man lurking in the background.

The intention of the author/director isn’t important, of course—what counts, in the case of movies, is what makes it onto the screen. We aren’t interested in what the Pangs wanted to do with “Recycle” but what they finally did do. So we will abandon this familiar dead end (knowing that it may come back to haunt us in the same way her abandoned drafts terrorized Angelica Lee) and stick to what we are able to see and hear. Angelica Lee and Zeng Ya-Qi have an amazing chemistry. The scenes with just the two of them, uncluttered by zombies, falling bodies or the forces of disintegration, are done with just the right touch of tear jerking emotion to keep us enthralled.

Lee is terrific at looking scared but resolute which is what she is for most of the movie. When Yin tries to explain to a friend what has been happening at her apartment, particularly the discarded ideas and scraps of drafts she had tossed away that took on a life of their own and seemed to predict the future and control the present, the friend (Rain Li) tells Yin that she is scaring her and to stop. This doesn’t help Yin—the friend is only interested in setting Yin up with her cad of a brother who had walked out on her eight years before—and tells the audience that Yin will have to face alone the trails that are in store for her.

The script for “Recycle” won’t win any prizes for coherence. While aspects of the jagged, pasted-together quality might be there to show Yin’s uncertain and precarious state of mind but that doesn’t explain the clunky transitions and characters (or creatures) that are in one scene but don’t show up again. One significant problem, which may be the fault of the DVD I was watching, was that important parts of first half of the movie is very, very dark—a sudden noise from the darkness can be a jolt but not seeing anything but indistinct shadows on the screen while the heroine thinks she is in peril is simply annoying.

“Recycle” is an easy movie to recommend. Other than the script and lighting quibbles it is good looking, well-acted and properly menacing at the right moments.
Reviewer Score: 7