|Mon seung 2006 Hong Kong Diary|
Charlene Choi is magnificent as the schizophrenic, sad and lonely Winnie. Her face has a beauty suited to smoldering evil or desperate sadness inside, and she presents this facade so convincingly that in her very few, very brief moments of happiness, the shy and hopeful smile that accompanies the change evokes the poetic innocence of a rescued child. It's captivating and magnetic. It draws the viewer into a collaborative dream of promise that when quickly and sadly broken the feeling of empathy is profound. That's good acting and directing.
The ending very clearly presents a major twist. However, as someone writes in the message board here, "I know it was the same person but why had two different faces?" The cast credits list only three people, so one must conclude that the 'real' instigator was Winnie's neighbor but it sure didn't look like the same person to me. Her character was presented as a likely ne'er do well, but I'm not sure if it was her or if it was some alter ego, some schizophrenic other personality of Winnie. I think the ending twist was unnecessary and even though I didn't grasp the director's intent, it didn't bother me remotely enough to spoil the film.
Another aspect of the sensuousness of this film concerns the language and subtitles. This is a Hong Kong film, the language is Cantonese. I understand about three words of Cantonese but find the language wonderfully lyrical. Even in the few instances where the characters scream at one another there is a musicality to it. Most of the film drifts along like the melody of a bedtime lullaby, perhaps a byproduct of Charlene Choi's other profession as a (rather famous in Hong Kong) canto-pop singer.
Concerning the English subtitles—at least the set that accompanied the film I watched. Subtitles are often a spongey issue. I imagine that one of two things are usually expected: that they are translationally accurate or that they convey more accurately the mood and intent of the speaker. One phrase uttered several times in this film by Winnie is, "I like to make puppets as I always think they are able to share with me". I don't know what that means because it could mean so many thing--in context or out of context. I can only hope the native language meaning is also as wonderfully ambiguous.
Anyone familiar with someone learning English as a second language has experienced moments of questionable grammar that are crystal clear in meaning and intent. Because I find the rub of language so fascinating, I'm glad the subtitles appear to have been done by someone whose English was a second language. There are many examples, but a few gems for me were: "I like to make puppets and write my diary", "Do you have an affair?" (for, Are you having an affair?), "She instigated me!", and my favorite, "Seth often complained of my cookery." (You'll have to see the movie to enjoy the full impact of that last one.)
Summary: Winnie (Charlene Choi) is schizophrenic young woman with a passion for writing in her diary, meticulously constructing creepy wooden dolls and chopping meat with extreme prejudice. She’s unable to overcome her deeply-rooted feelings for a previous boyfriend, Seth, and her life takes an unexpected turn when she meets Ray, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Seth. The two quickly become attached, but not without the interference of her delusional imagination and her mysterious best friend (Isabella Leong). Blurring the lines of memory and reality, Winnie carries a distorted recollection of Seth’s fate. Was it a car crash, cancer or something more frightening? Will the answer lie in her daily dairy? What danger will erupt from her personal Pandora’s box?
Subverting a simple love story by injecting generous quantities of obsession, paranoia, and mental illness, director Oxide Pang (The Eye) stirs a cauldron of mystery with a dash of Takashi Miike’s Audition and a visual palate reminiscent of Fruit Chan’s “Dumplings” segment in 3 Extremes. He weaves an unconventional cat-and-mouse game between Winnie’s bizarre fantasies and reality, taking place mainly in her small apartment. The director’s limitless appetite for striking visuals (as demonstrated in last year’s Fantasia screening of Re-Cycle) is nicely illustrated during the tight, 85-minute narrative. Performances are top-notch, especially from the lead Charlene Choi (Jackie Chan’s New Police Story) from the pop group Twins. Choi gives one of her finest celluloid performances as she breaks away from her comic persona, bringing fragility and emotional depth to her complex character. Filmed with haunting eloquence by DP Anuchit Chotrattanasiri, enhanced by an eerie score by regular Pang Brothers music collaborator Payont Permsith and underlined by ominous intrigue, Diary will engage your mind to the very end.