Since the U.S. has marked Chao Bin Su’s “SILK” (a.k.a. Gui Si, 2006) for remake hell in 2010, I figured I may as well review the original Taiwanese-Japanese made horror thriller which I’ve seen way back in 2007. “Silk” sidesteps the stereotypical conventions of Asian horror which has plagued the U.S. market and has presented a charismatic tale that blends pseudo-science and the supernatural in a film which is part lore, part theory and all entertainment. It may be one of the best installments of Asian horror within the past 5 years. It does have good commercial appeal that gives more attention to scientific theory than your routine scares; it is more a sci-fi thriller than an actual slice of Asian horror.
When a foreign photographer is found dead in a dilapidated tenement, Tung (Chen Chang), a member of the JCCU (Joint Crime Crackdown Unit) is enlisted to join a mysterious team of researchers to uncover the secrets of anti-gravity--or so what the team’s leader, Hashimoto (Yosuke Eguchi) says. Tung has been selected to join the team because of his uncanny ability to read lips and remember the smallest details that may come unnoticed by other people. Life hasn’t been exactly kind to Tung as his mother is in critical condition with only his girlfriend, Wei (Lam Kar Yan) who gives him support. The team has captured an actual specter in the form of a child which they have managed to keep in isolation with the aid of a scientific breakthrough called the “Menger Sponge” that can absorb all forms of energy. Hashimoto is determined to find the secrets as to how and why a specter can be self-sustaining and little do they know that they are coming closer and closer to deadly peril the more they dig into the boy’s past…
“Silk” is more “X-Files” than “Ringu”. What makes “Silk” different from other entries in Asian horror is the fact that the story doesn’t revolve around a vengeful long-haired ghost that haunts a group of people who has offended it. The direction and writing by Chao Bin-Su opts to bring certain mechanics to the tired genre of the “Yurei” and incorporates nice bits of science fiction. Chao is in familiar territory since he has also written “Double Vision” which also had an intriguing script. The film presents scientific method as a means in finding out the mystery behind our captive ghost, and the supposed pseudo-science works as many factors of the unraveling mystery is deduced through theory and old-fashioned hunches. The “Menger sponge” is one interesting concept; the “menger sponge” does exist in real life, (look it up in wikipedia) but in reality it will no allow you to do the mysterious things portrayed in the movie. In Hashimoto’s own words, the sponge can absorb all kinds of energy that is electron-based, and ghosts are another form of electrons, so the “menger sponge” can keep a ghost in check.
The film science behind the ‘menger sponge’ may appear a little silly at first look, since it does have very malleable properties. It can in the form of a spray that you can use on your eyes so that you can see ghosts, made into film so you can catch a ghost on camera, strengthen walls and glass so that they can imprisoned, spray onto bullets and they can annoy a ghost. It is weird, I know and while I do think some of the mythos established in the film may seem over-the-top, the film’s direction is energetic and convincing enough to keep its viewer entertained.
The ghosts in the film react as those in other Asian horror films such as in “The Eye” and “Dorm”. They may have the stereotypical feel but they do have a different purpose. They do serve to bring its supernatural aims and the film’s narrative prove immersive. “Silk” asks certain questions as to what is keeping the boy-ghost in this plane of reality and why is this residual haunting insists on re-enacting his daily routine? The script is strong as it becomes structured around guesswork in order to uncover the truth. The ghosts themselves are pretty well-developed, but the characters, aside from Tung are a little underdeveloped. The screenplay brings forth some parallels to Tung’s life and the ghost’s situation; they seem to be both clinging to something immaterial. Chen Chang brings a good performance in his character, as he seemed a little stoic and a bit miserable. Hashimoto’s character needs further development as some parts of the script left his characters hanging with questions. Thankfully Eguchi is charismatic enough to make him interesting unlike the come from behind shock value in the character of Su (played by Barbie Hsu), that felt little more than a plot device. Lam Kar Yan’s Wei is a very sympathetic character but her relationship with Tung isn’t carefully fleshed out.
In a movie that strengthens its narrative through theory, it is important to have all the answers. Direction Chao does manage to flesh out the film’s key points in the script but sadly some characters felt too much of an ‘archetype’ to bring some meat to the narrative. I guess it meant to feature the pseudoscience and mystery behind our supernatural lead characters as the film’s major selling point. On this, it succeeds, although the film’s final act became your perfunctory thrill-ride of car-chases with an angry crawling ghost hot on your tail. The ‘killer bowl’ of beef noodles and the ‘peeing’ incident serve up some doses of “Asian horror’ thrills, as it gave some needed low dose of scares and creepiness.
No, “Silk” doesn’t have the jump scares and I do believe it is part of its strength. The film almost became overloaded with genre requirements but Chao managed to keep things together. It does have an involving storyline, well-generated suspense and great production values. It also helps when you have “art house ace actor” Chen Chang in the lead. Yeh, it may seem a little contrived at times, but it is a good slice of Asian mainstream horror targeted for international audiences. It isn’t as scary as the original “Ju-on” nor is it as spooky as “Ringu”, but it is still a lot of fun to watch.
Highly Recommended! [4- Out of 5 Stars]
Note: The movie’s dialogue is Bi-lingual in Japanese and Mandarin