Oxide Pang, we're almost done with you. The former Eye wunderkind and current Universe Entertainment house director hits a new low with Sleepwalker, an initially intriguing mystery that ends its 108-minute stay with jaw-dropping ineptitude. Pang's wife and Eye star Angelica Lee stars as Yee, an addled woman who runs a garment factory and has frightening Raggedy Ann-like dyed-red hair. Yee regularly has questions about her previous evenings. She wakes up from terrible dreams that she can't remember to find her hands dirty, her belongings displaced and her footprints on the floor. She finds all of this odd, thereby proving that she’s partially sane.
Yee is obviously a sleepwalker, but what she does while sleepwalking is her big concern. Her ex-husband Ming (Kenny Wong) has gone missing, and witnesses report he was heading to Yee's place the night of his disappearance. Sergeant Au (Huo Siyan) is also suspicious, having caught Yee running around at night in her nightgown. Ming isn’t the only one missing; Au’s cousin Kee (Charlie Young) recently paid the ransom for her kidnapped son, but the boy never surfaced. Unsettled by these mysteries, Yee works to recall her dreams and ascertain her evening whereabouts, worrying that she may be responsible for one or more of these crimes. Unsurprisingly, she does not like what she finds.
Neither should the audience. Oxide Pang starts Sleepwalker well, using sharp editing and strong details to build his characters and situations. Yee is troubled but has her reasons, and Angelica Lee does a fine job creating multiple layers for the character, allowing us to see more than a woman with nocturnal troubles. Yee may be a victim or she may be a perpetrator, and this mystery is initially a compelling one. Unfortunately, the mystery is not handled very well. Red herrings appear and then are debunked through dialogue, and the identity of one guilty character is telegraphed far too early. The conflicting details hurt audience immersion, reducing anticipation or fear – you know, things that a thriller might benefit from.
Also, direction is sometimes unfocused; some characters are given far too much screentime, and their subplots prove more distracting than involving. Pang never changes up the film, adding new and dark elements to supplement old ones and giving his cast little to do besides brood, stress out and continually peek over their shoulders. One reason Eye worked is that the mystery grew on the viewer wordlessly while the characters were going about their lives, but here the mystery is set up in minute one and continually talked about and talked about and talked about. Constant, dull suspense can get tiring.
Even worse, the film doesn’t know when to end. Once the mystery is unsatisfactorily resolved, the film introduces yet another character and loads on the dialogue as people talk about how they feel and also what really happened. Pang leaves no room for interpretation, using flashbacks and dialogue to lay out every last plot twist and character connection, and besides being wordy a lot of it is pretentious. Ultimately, Sleepwalker wants to reveal something about people who share scars, but the metaphysical means of connection makes no sense – and having multiple people cry in realization while listening to exposition is not going to convince otherwise. If filmmaking is sleight of hand then Oxide Pang has butterfingers.
Topping this whole thing off is the unnecessary 3D. Unlike Pang’s previous Child’s Eye the 3D images don’t add to the tension or suspense, and only seem to be employed because they’re part of the latest fad that all the cool kids are into. There are occasional dream sequences requiring CGI, but nothing is as imaginative or immersive as the paper-burning funeral world in Child’s Eye. Besides the 3D dreams, we get a single flying motorcycle part and lots of 3D images of guys sitting at tables under bright hot lights. Considering a 3D movie costs at least an extra HK$30 per ticket, Sleepwalker should be considered something of a scam. Seeing this movie in 2D – or perhaps not at all – would be just fine. (Kozo, 2011)