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Double Vision
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Chinese: 雙瞳  
Year: 2002  
Director: Chen Kuo-Fu  
Writer: Chen Kuo-Fu, Su Chao-Bin  
  Cast: Tony Leung Ka-Fai, David Morse, Rene Liu (Lau Yeuk-Ying), Leon Dai, Sihung Lung, Yang Kuei-Mei, Huang Wei-Han
  The Skinny: Extraordinarily well-produced horror thriller backed by Sony Pictures' Asia division. The Taiwan setting provides some freshness, though the story and execution aren't noteworthy for the genre. The film also lacks a coherent explanation to all the cool happenstance, though the film will likely enchant those partial to its Asian horror charms. If nothing else, this is an entertaining ride.
by Kozo:

Sony Pictures Asia bankrolled this well-produced horror thriller that's got international distribution written all over it. Tony Leung Ka-Fai stars as Huang Huo-To, a Taiwanese foreign affairs officer who finds himself sucked into a series of mysterious murders. A shady businessman dies in his office of an apparent drowning, except he was in his office chair and there's no water around. A government official's mistress burns to death, but there's no fire. And an arms dealer/priest is disembowled even though there was no struggle. Even more, Huo-To shouldn't even be involved, since he's a foreign affairs officer and not a homicide detective. He's also on the outs with his wife Ching Fang (Rene Liu), unpopular with his co-workers, and completely and utterly morose. He could probably use some happy pills.

Unforunately for Huo-To, no happy pills come his way. He does, however, get a new partner. Because Taiwan is not equipped to handle a serial killer case of this complexity and/or magnitude, a specialist is brought in. The United States donates Kevin Richter (David Morse of The Green Mile), an FBI profiler whose noted for his serial killer catching expertise. Huo-To is the foreign affairs officer, and supposedly fluent in English, so he gets to babysit the tall white guy. Unfortunately, Richter's presence is unpopular with the locals; they simply don't want to be shown up by the bad guy from Twelve Monkeys. The hope is that Huang Huo-To does nothing but give him a guided tour.

Richter has other ideas though. Since's he's smarter, taller and probably a better basketball player than the Taiwanese cops, he's determined to find the killer. He uses his awesome charisma and incredible command of the English language to inspire the natives into solving the crime and/or finally handling their pesky political problems. Well, not really. He merely asks that Huo-To exercise his potential for righteousness and aid him in probing the depths of these depraved murders. He considers Huo-To a brave and capable man, even though Huo-To currently has the personality of a brick wall.

But Huo-To has backstory. Once upon a time he turned in his own cousin for corruption, which led to all sorts of bad happenstance that rendered his daughter Mei Mei (Huang Wei-Han) mute, his cousin dead, and his popularity with the cops at an all time low. The short version: Huo-To is a depressing shell of a man who's cruising for a divorce, and has zero chance of being invited to the company party. Thankfully, Richter nudges Huo-To onto the straight and narrow, and together the new pals hunt down the evil bad guys.

If only it really were that simple. Writers Su Chao-Bin and Chen Kuo-Fu (who also directed) have created an intricately detailed backstory for Double Vision which doesn't entirely gel. There's the touch of the supernatural to these killings, which leads to some cool Taoist connections and more slow-moving creepy atmosphere than any film truly needs. It also leads to narrative devices not unlike the film Seven, and some plot points that aren't explained very well. That's a shame, because Double Vision is interesting for the better part of its extensive 113-minute running time. It does take a while to get going, but the deepening mystery should keep people involved.

And it does—until the film stops making complete sense. Cool special effects, fascinating cultural ties, the occasional surprise, and a remarkably bloody police raid all shore up the narrative shortcomings, but Double Vision can't bring itself to a tight, effective finish. The ultimate conclusion does not feel concrete or even overly compelling, as it can't connect all its dots in a satisfying manner. There's lots of great detail, and a lot of time is spent dispensing them, but when you put it all together not everything fits. Sloppiness with details is expected from your average commercial flick, but in a production of this size and pretensions, that shouldn't be the case.

Still, the film compensates in other areas. The cinematography from Hong Kong ace Arthur Wong Ngok-Tai is exemplary, and the actors turn in subdued, effective performances. Tony Leung Ka-Fai has long been one of Asia's more versatile actors, and he does a fine job as the haunted Huo-To. Rene Liu is affecting and sincere as his estranged wife, and David Morse brings more depth and human dignity to his role than the script probably called for. His character is a cheesy one, as he's a too-good FBI guy who runs point on a bizarre serial killer case AND dispenses personal advice to a rundown Taiwanese detective—and he does both tasks with remarkable proficiency. Had Kevin Richter been played by Michael Douglas, he probably would have used kick-ass rule breaking and Rambo-like wisdom to win over the locals, but Morse is a far more accomodating actor. He complements Tony Leung Ka-Fai extremely well, and their minor interplay is actually one of the film's more surprising pleasures. The two actors manage to inject some discernible humanity into things, which saves Double Vision from what it could have been: a messy horror thriller that only looks and sounds good. Double Vision still looks and sounds extremely good, but thankfully it manages to provide more than that. (Kozo 2003)

Notes: • This review was based on the unrated version of Double Vision, which runs 113 minutes. The rated version is 110 minutes.
• The late Lung Si-Hung of Eat Drink Man Woman and The Wedding Banquet appears as a scholar, meaning that his last screen appearance was thankfully NOT The Touch.
Awards: 22nd Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
Winner - Best Supporting Actress (Rene Liu)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
ERA/Columbia Tri-Star Home Video
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Unrated / Rated Version
Mandarin Language
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English, Chinese, Korean and Thai subtitles

images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen