Dead Slowly — Film Review
By Maggie Lee, October 13, 2009 05:57 ET
Bottom Line: Confusing and pretentious experimental trifle about death, adultery and food poisoning.
BUSAN, South Korea — Rarely does a film title describe itself so accurately. Hong Kong video artist Rita Hui’s feature is indeed deadeningly slow. Like the kind of navel-gazing film school assignment made at the tail-end of ’70s experimentalism, “Dead Slowly” drowns itself in a miasma of arty shots, pseudo-intellectual dialogue, extreme cuts, shrill dissonant music and narrative incoherence. However, its worse offenses are its gratuitous sex and nudity, and tasteless eroticization of gore. It is best reserved for multimedia seminars, campus film clubs and private screenings among like-minded artistes.
“Dead Slowly” is structured in the form of three crime cases (a motorcycle accident and two homicides) related to an incident of food poisoning (hence the Chinese title “Slow Poisoning.”) Titling that wallpapers the screen provides some factual context or commentary on the cases, but text is virtually unreadable in the time given.
Adultery seems to be a motif — Hui, the amputated victim of the accident is cheating on his wife Mei (Joman Chiang) with her sister. Ying (Cheng Sheung Ling), the first murder victim, is a nymphomaniac. Jing (Samuel Pang), the case’s detective, is being cuckolded by his wife, Ching (Ko Siu Man), and a fellow officer. Innuendos of Jing’s murder of Mei’s father eight years ago crop up now and again, with no explanation of motive. Mei gets fidgety with sharp objects. Detained in an asylum, she repeatedly seduces Ying in those “is it real, a dream or hallucination?” montage sequences.
A mural of a tree whose branches spread like tentacles or blood stains definitely leaves an impression, because it seems to have legs, appearing in one scene in Ying’s studio, another scene in Mei’s dining room and yet another scene in Ching (or whoever’s) bathroom.
Another scene, memorable for its MTV trashiness, is Ying soaking in her own blood (possibly disemboweled) on a sofa, in a room filled to the brim with white plastic bags. There are other bloody scenes of violence to oneself and others, writhing bodies of unidentified characters and at least two shots of erect penises — all for no fathomable narrative purpose and certainly not for aesthetic enhancement.
Hui supposedly wishes to explore time and relationships in reference to “Alice in Wonderland.” The open credit alludes cryptically to a rabbit’s travelogue, and in the epilogue, titling presents a conversation between a rabbit and a panda on the subject of love. The only connection one can see between this film and Lewis Carroll’s book is that the protagonists and the script are mad as a Hatter.
Venue: Pusan International Film Festival — New Currents
Sales: Ying E Chi Ltd.
Cast: Joman Chiang, Cheng Sheung Ling, Samuel Pang, Ko Siu Man
Director-editor: Rita Hui
Producers: Jessey Tsang, Kattie Fan
Directors of photography: Nelson Szeto, Angus Tong
Costume designer: Po Lee
Editor: Haze Tsui
No rating, 87 minutes