This film is directed by Danny Pang. The name sounds very familiar, but surely it can't be the same guy who directed the superior "The Eye" (2002) with his brother? I'm afraid it is, although that's hard to believe, because "Forest of Death" is an awkward, badly staged mess. If this is the best Hong Kong has to offer right now? Then we are truly lost!
The story is mildly intriguing, though. A suicide hotspot? A haunted forrest perhaps? Sure sign me up. It's better that the haunted shoes or haunted ventriloquist dummies we've been treated to lately.
In 1999 "The Blair Witch Project" took the idea of a haunted forest to a new level and scared millions to death with nothing but a video camera and a few actors. There's no reason a talented director like Danny Pang shouldn't be able to top that with everything he's got in his arsenal. Unfortunately Mr. Pang is in too much of a hurry, and he never takes the time to build the suspense.
The film opens with an amateurish scene that's supposed to establish the plight of those poor souls who venture into the forrest, but all it does is foreshadow how devoid of new ideas this film is going to be. Then, after the credit sequence, Pang cuts to a news segment, where the reporter May explains the film's entire set-up while sitting in a noisy helicopter in broad daylight! That makes the whole thing about as interesting as an instructional video for assembling a washing machine. Great, now we know how all the parts fit together, but that doesn't mean we're remotely interested. Where's the mystery? Where's the darkness that can haunt our minds as soon as we let our thoughts wander? It's simply nowhere to be found.
Here's a free hint Mr. Pang: Watch "The Eye" again. Notice how it's the lack of information and certainty that's the scary part. "That's a monster" is a lot less scary than "IS that a monster?!"
And here's another hint: Scenes where characters simply sit alone in front of a computer Googling their way to the answers should be avoided at all cost. For educational purposes re-watch "Se7en" and notice how the discovery of information acquired via research can be presented in an interesting way.
Even though Mr. Pang does quite an inept job here, I'm not sure even the greatest director could have saved this, because the central premise is so farfetched.
Regular viewers of the American TV-show "Mythbusters" will snicker at Shum's experiments. The show has already covered communication with plants and every time Shum opens his mouth I get the mental image of deadpan co-host Tori Belleci trying to measure the level of panic in a plant by lighting it on fire, while it's hooked up to an EKG.
Forgetting the fact that anyone who suggested that a killer could be exposed using "plant feelings" would surely be fired within about 10 seconds, the whole idea is just plain bad and it's not interesting to watch.
Okay, to be fair there's more than just "plant feelings" at play here (though spoiler-potential doesn't permit me to go into details), it's just that this part of the story takes up SO much room in the film. Too much room!
Here are some other things that annoyed me...
I love the guy, but he's at his absolute weakest here. He doesn't have a gun, he's not cool, he doesn't get the girl (not the right one anyway) and he tries to look 20 years old (at this point in his life he's actually 40).
What's up with Lam Suet as Shu Qi's boss? He's got a giant wart on his face, with a 3-inch hair growth! It's the only thing I can look at when he's on!
Stop trying to make us feel scared by using music. The music should underline the scares, it shouldn't deliver the scares. You would have thought horror film directors would have learned that by now.
Shu Qi plays the part of CC with a grim expression on her face, which every now and then is substituted by a coy girlie grin or smile that lasts a few seconds, and then she's back to the grim face again. It's such an odd way to play the character and it makes it almost impossible to like CC, or be enthusiastic about her investigation.
It's also a problem that CC never feels like the lead character, though she's obviously meant to be. The film is too preoccupied with other things to develop the character properly and since Ekin Cheng's Shum is just a wuss in a lab coat there's no one left to cheer for.
Excuse me for being brutally honest, but there really isn't minutes enough in a day to waste 97 of them on a film like this. It's supposed to be a thriller, but it's not thrilling, and the ending is so preposterously stupid you can't help but burst into laughter.
There are already too many inferior horror films around, we don't need another one. So instead of popping this film in the DVD player, go for a walk in the real forrest instead. And when you hear the wind blowing softly through the trees think of it as the echo of the collective sigh from the last audience who saw "Forest of Death".