Double Vision

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 08/10/05 11:31:11

"Asian horror, Tony Leung, AND David Morse? Sign me up."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

We’ve seen serial killers before, just as we’ve seen mismatched detectives and supernatural doings before. Yet “Double Vision” makes it all seem fresh, simply by twisting here, turning there. It’s a genuine mystery that wraps up nicely enough to leave the audience satisfied, yet unclear enough to leave us thinking. It contains two of the most thrilling twists I’ve seen in a while, but it’s never a movie that’s only about surprises. It’s creepy, it’s engaging, it’s great, brainy fun.

The story kicks off with a peculiar mystery worthy of Dick Tracy: how can a man die of drowning while sitting at his desk in his office on the seventeenth floor? Taipei cops are baffled, as is Huang Huo-tu (Tony Leung), the Foreign Affairs agent and former homicide detective called in to check things out. But this mystery is just the first. Soon a woman turns up burnt alive, despite an apparent absence of fire, and then a priest is found mutilated, with a Taoist talisman carved into his chest, one that’s translated as being “a death curse from the king of hell,” which I’m pretty sure is not a good thing.

As Taiwan police aren’t used to dealing with stuff like this, they’ve brought in FBI agent and serial killer specialist Kevin Richter (David Morse) to take a look at things. He’s partnered with Huang, partly because Huang works for Foreign Affairs, and partly because he’s the guy who speaks the best English.

What they find in their investigations I won’t reveal, but it has to do with enough religious history and cultish goings-on that Huang and Richter are soon debating if what they’re up against is merely human or, well, otherwise. And that’s one of the great things about this movie - even when it’s all over, it’s never officially announced whether what has happened was normal or paranormal.

It’s definitely spooky, that’s for sure. The “double vision” of the title refers to having two pupils in one eye, and I won’t say more than that except yyyeeeeeeaasshh. Creeepy, creepy, creepy. One use of the effect actually got me to jump out of my seat and say “yow,” which is something I rarely ever do.

But in addition to a good case of the willies (director Chen Kuo Fu has a good eye for unsettling visuals and a general eerie mood), “Double Vision” works as a gripping mystery. Plot twists come from unexpected corners, snippets of clues are doled out in just the right amounts, and the more the lead characters discover, the more we sit up and pay attention, watching as the tension mounts and the puzzles begin to fit. This is an expertly written screenplay (from Chen and co-writer Su Zhao Bin), smart enough to keep us guessing throughout, open-ended enough to make us want to watch it again right away to see what we missed, thrilling enough to never make any of this detective work seem like a chore.

It helps that we have two such great actors leading us through the puzzle. Morse is his usual brilliant self as the intrusive foreigner who’s here to help but doesn’t mind being the Ugly American. Leung, meanwhile, makes sure his character is equally divided between his detective duties and his troubled home life, a never-feels-stale cliché that helps create an emotional center to the story.

Both stars make their performances seem so easy that I can’t picture anyone else in their roles - always the mark of a good performance. They make a good team, too, playing off each other’s strengths, becoming a natural screen pair. More importantly, though, both stars never try to use their characters to upstage the story; they find just the right balance between character development and silly thrills to make the movie shine.

And so, with everything in place, “Double Vision” excels in being inventive despite its familiarity, fresh despite its clichés. The filmmakers have blended sharp characters and giddy thrills, and the combination results in a thriller far more effective than most of the duds being made Stateside. “Double Vision” will grab you tight and squeeze until you’re breathless and fully wowed, just the way a thriller should.

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