There are a lot of legends and myths that surround some forests in most Asian countries (most of these countries are a lot older than the U.S. if you talk recorded history). These legends are mostly from Thailand, the Philippines, China and of course, Japan. “FOREST OF DEATH” (2007) is an attempt by the Pang Bros. to try out something new, this time around it is Danny Pang who co-writes and directs alone (quite curious that Oxide did the directorial reins of “Diary” alone too). They’ve done ghosts, an action film, psychological thrillers and this is the first time one of the Pangs make an attempt for something very X-Files-like; this film combines scientific theories, the supernatural and legends and is quite a welcome change from the usual.
There is a notorious forest that attracts young heart-broken people to commit suicide and their bodies are never found. This fact have been sensationalized by the media specifically a young reporter named Mei (Rain Li). Those people actually come from all places, and walks of life. However, a rape and murder case is found in this unnamed forest.
The police finally arrest a suspect named Patrick Wong (Lawrence Chou) but unfortunately they lack the necessary evidence for a conviction. Detective Ha Chung Chi (played by lusciously-lipped Taiwanese actress Shu Qi, So Close) is the new detective in charge, and in her desperation, she invites a botanical scientist named Shum Shu-Hoi (Ekin Cheng) to conduct an experimental procedure which can theoretically disclose the truth. However, unbeknownst to both of them, they are about to uncover not just the truth behind the murder case but may be opening doors to the unknown. What’s more Hoi’s girlfriend-reporter Mei is also closing in….
The film blends elements from science fiction, the supernatural, CSI-like investigative elements, and it is quite refreshing to see the Pangs try something new. The legends of the forest are quite interesting enough, and as I’ve said I’m very familiar with this type of myth and the screenplay does give this concept good exposition. The experimental mumbo-jumbo about listening to plants actually require a large suspension of disbelief, but once you take in its links to the unexplained, you may buy into it. I rather thought that the forest is just a conduit for an unknown energy and this factor will remain unexplained and will be left to the viewer’s interpretation much like an “X-File”. This is the film’s basic set up and premise and admittedly it is very interesting.
The cinematography is quite good as with any of the Pangs outings, and it has an ominous feel that also promotes claustrophobia. The visual effects by Fat Face Production is quite decent but truth be told it is the usual “smokey” apparitions we are used to in other Asian films. The film carries a very serious tone, and unfortunately, after the film’s initial set ups, the screenplay takes a turn and some elements became a little laughable. I like Shu Qi, I do think she is a competent actress but she is just too pretty to be playing a detective and a little distracting. Her lead character is a little underdeveloped. Ekin Cheng and Lawrence Chou just overacts and their characters tend to become a nuisance after awhile, and what’s worse, Mei’s (played by Rain Li) media personality is so annoying and feels no more than a plot device to generate a perfunctory romantic complication.
The film’s biggest flaw is its lack of compelling characters, it is just so hard to care about what happens to them. The best one I think is the old man, Tin (played by Lau Siu Ming) and he does have a potentially interesting back story but this fact is abandoned early on, so it’s direct weight and its links to the forest are left “hanging“. However, much to Danny Pang’s credit, while his characters feel very one-dimensional, he manages to generate some suspense when he focuses on the mysteries of the forest itself. I rather hoped that the developing jealousy between Ha and Mei was abandoned; the script would have done better with a more emotional ending than resorting to a perfunctory one. The unraveling of the mystery does answer a lot of questions, but it also opens more questions. I suppose this was an attempt to keep the viewer guessing, but I didn’t find myself asking for more.
Ultimately, “Forest of Death” is a lot better than the abysmal “the Messengers” but totally inferior to “Re-Cycle” and “the Eye“. Unfortunately, the plot just wasn’t well connected to its characters and the film felt a little dry and undercooked. Still, the film is very competently made with good production values and a decent premise. But it is another exercise of style that made the Pangs popular in Hong Kong and it does offer nothing new--it doesn‘t reinvent the supernatural genre, nor does it do anything worth remembering. If this film and if “Diary” is any indication, one wouldn’t be hard-pressed to think that brothers Oxide and Danny Pang are better working together than apart.