Oxide Pang Chun
Running Time: 92 minutes
US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15
Country: Japan, Thailand, United Kingdom
The films of twins Oxide and Danny Pang tend to feature main characters whose perception of the world around them is somehow distorted or constrained, be it the deaf-mute hitman at the centre of their first collaboration ‘Bangkok Dangerous’ (1999) or the sight-impaired protagonist of their baroque horror The Eye (2002). ‘The Tesseract’ may be a solo project for Oxide, but it is just as concerned with showing blinkered characters (who this time are not afflicted with a physical disability, but with the more universally human condition of being unable to comprehend the chaotic interconnections between their own fates) – and it has more than enough doubles, surrogates, parallels and even actual twins to compensate for the absence of Oxide’s brother.
Sean (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is a nervous drug courier waiting on a delivery. Rosa (Saskia Reeves) is a bereaved mother who is interviewing street children about their dreams for a research project in psychology. Lita (Lena Christenchen) is an assassin left slowly bleeding to death after an assignment to kill a group of drug dealers goes wrong. Wit (Alexander Rendel) is a young bellboy with pilfering hands and a shaky grasp of right and wrong. At a seedy hotel in Bangkok, these four strangers will come to share a destiny that is both inscrutable and unstoppable, as they find themselves not only in the middle of a war between two ruthless Thai gangs, but at the epicentre of an uncanny collision between the past and the future, dreams and reality, life and death.
A tesseract is “a hypercube unravelled”, which is to say it is a representation in three dimensions of a cube’s four-dimensional equivalent – and ‘The Tesseract’, adapted from Alex Garland’s novel of the same name, attempts to map out the complex criss-crossing of four strangers’ lives through an achronological framework, skipping backwards and forwards in time, and occasionally even depicting counterfactual sequences (what might have happened but did not) and hallucinations.
Yet what may sound like a portentous and confusing idea amounts in fact to little more than an ensemble film with a series of parallel narratives that occasionally intersect in unexpected and dramatic ways – something that has been seen before in films as varied as ‘Short Cuts’, ‘Mystery Train’, ‘Slacker’, Pulp Fiction, and more recently in Ju-on: the Grudge and Closer. Probably the nearest analogue, however, is the work of González Iñárritu – both his extraordinary ‘Amores Perros’ (2000) with its three arbitrarily linked episodes, and his 21 Grams (in production at the same time as Pang’s film) which featured a wildly cut-up chronology that frankly makes the experiments with time in ‘The Tesseract’ seem almost one-dimensional by comparison.
Certainly Pang deploys a full armoury of jarring visual effects in ‘The Tesseract’, switching from colour to black-and-white and from hyperkinetic MTV-style edits to Peckinpah-esque slow motion (and even borrowing ‘bullet time’ from The Matrix) – all of which not only looks fantastic but also goes some way to liberate the film’s events from their conventional spatio-temporal bonds. The film is let down, however, by Rosa and Wit’s unlikely riffs on determinism, destiny and the imperceptible dynamics of cause and effect. These themes emerge clearly enough from the action and editing alone, and the unnecessary addition of such verbal exposition betrays the film’s literary origins, and points to a heavy-handedness on the part of screenwriters Pang and Patrick Neate – which could be overlooked were it not for the inexperience of actor Alexander Rendel, making Wit’s already clunky lines sound even more obtrusive.
Still, even if it does not quite live up to its ambitions, ‘The Tesseract’ is never anything less than watchable.
It's Got: Slo-mo gunfights; criss-crossing narratives; and once again, as in Oxide Pangs earlier Bangkok Dangerous, there are gratuitous references to the durian, South-East Asias stinkiest fruit.
It Needs: To lose its heavy-handed dialogue, and to be more complicated.
DVD Extras These do not extend beyond scene selection, a trailer, and optional SDH. Version reviewed: Momentum Asia DVD Extras Rating: 1/10
Alternatives:21 Grams, California Suite, Four Rooms, Magnolia, Mystery Train, Pulp Fiction, Short Cuts, Slacker
For all its style, this time-jumping marriage of '21 Grams' and 'The Matrix' still makes four dimensions seem more like one.