Silk (2006) Directed by Chao-Bin Su
Starring Chen Chang, Yosuke Eguchi, Karena Lam, Bo-lin Chen, Chun-Ning Chang, Barbie Hsu

Combining science-fiction and horror Chao-Bin Su offers an often intriguing but unfortunately imbalanced movie with Silk. The premise is so preposterous that by taking itself seriously the film becomes its own caricature, failing where something like Ghostbusters or even The Frighteners succeed. It’s a good effort in some respects and easy enough to watch with beer and pizza, but so frustrating you’ll be tempted to throw leftover crust at the screen.

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An international team of scientists have assembled in Taiwan led by the perfectly coiffured Hashimoto (Yosuke Eguchi) and his cold-blooded reptilian assistant Su (Barbie Hsu) searching for ghosts. After their sleaze-ball token white guy winds up dead in an apartment they quarantine the building (by having the Taiwanese government, under pressure from the Japanese government, declare a radiation hazard) and erect a high-tech office. Inside a glassed encased room sits a little boy, his eyes too milky-white and his skin too pale to be alive.

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It turns out Hashimoto has discovered a way to levitate, utilizing the energy of the dead by means of a scientific substance you can spray in your eyes or on the doorknob. The Japanese want millions of floating cubes to revolutionize their industry but unfortunately there’s a real lack of ghosts in the world so a lot is riding on this one little boy. All attempts to understand the ghost and why he exists have failed, forcing Hashimoto to call in Taiwanese supercop Tung (Chen Chang) who can read lips and has a photographic memory. This newcomer to the team is met with great contempt and petty office jealousies threaten to derail the project, but not nearly as much as the fact that Tung’s mother is comatose and requires constant monitoring at the hospital.

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After driving around the block to cool off Tung convinces his non-girlfriend Wei (Karena Lam) to babysit mother and joins the ghost squad, only to find a revolt taking place. Someone’s trying to walk off with the dead little boy, and suddenly we see just how dangerous he can be. After everyones shock and grief subsides the movie shifts gears and becomes something of an investigation. Tung is to use his supercop skills to track down everything about this boy and eventually he is to follow him outside of the house; every afternoon at four the ghost tries to leave but is repelled by the ghost cage. The ultimate goal is to discover who the little boy was and where his body has been buried so they can understand the true nature of his undead persistence.

Unfortunately many liberties are taken by Hashimoto in the course of his work and the Japanese minister in charge of secret levitation decides to close up shop. Hashimoto goes rogue, Tung tries to sort out his feelings on unplugging his mother (and should really work on busting a move on Wei) and the other members of the team who never seemed to do much of anything go about their business unaffected by developments. Of course, dead little boys and their secrets don’t handle the stress so well and all hell breaks loose.

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As you may have noticed the first leap of faith to take is that harnessing ghost power is a serious scientific pursuit. Ghostbusters dropped the science and horror for comedy and stands the test of time as a great movie but Silk attempts to balance too many things and is unable to be convincing or even fun on all fronts. The scientific elements are ridiculous, stealing more from James Bond and his ceaseless supply of amazing gadgets and easy answers than more speculative science-fiction movies such as Gattaca or The Andromeda Strain. The idea that the government of Japan is secretly funding ghost projects– well, that’s actually not crazy at all. But the cherry-picking of supercops is too far-fetched. There’s no real scares and very little tension with the climax relying more on conventional action movie tricks (car chases?) than creativity. Hell, they throw an entire scene stolen from any number of Bruce Willis movies just to show you how bad-ass Tung is. The most interesting element to the plot is trying to find out about the dead little boy but even this gets stretched thin very quickly and then torn to shreds.

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The characters are also a grab bag of candywrappers. Hashimoto looks and acts like the devious mad-scientist down to his eye always being covered by his bangs and his irreverence in the face of superiors. Tung’s supercop abilities are tempered by the numbers, having a complicated love life and family tragedy to pull him in different directions. Wei is a convenient device, sweet and cute and devoid of purpose or personality, which pains me because I like Karena Lam. Su is the pouty and rigid control freak you spend more time hoping will somehow end up in wet and torn clothes than wondering why she has a stick up her ass. The Japanese minister is a stereotype found wherever rich men smoke cigars behind big desks, the other members of Team Hashimoto don’t really do anything except flesh out the cast and the ghost is a fucking ghost.

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The camera work and direction only draw attention when they slip into cliche, see what we could afford, effects. There’s really no reason to have 99% of the special effects they use and the most important 1% looked so terrible that you wished the dead little boy could loan you his milky eyes. There’s nothing to note about the sound, very little music, very little anything, really. Which is a shame. There’s an international cast of some merit and some interesting ideas for solid entertainment floating around this movie. If only they could have squashed the dumb ideas and toned down the attempts at emotional struggle, or at least just gone for shits and grins, it would be million times better.

Silk was released in the states by Tartan Asia Extreme and is widely available. Widescreen, good subtitles, pretty package for an empty box.