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TESSERACT, THE(director/writer: Oxide Pang; screenwriters: Patrick Neater/based on the novel by Alex Garland; cinematographer: Deecha Seemanta; editors: Oxide Pang/Piyapan Chooppetch; music: James Iha; cast: Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Sean), Saskia Reeves (Rosa), Alexander Rendel (Wit), Lena Christensen (Lita), Carlo Nanni (Roy), Veradis Vinyarath (Sia Toh), Somlee Phiboonpun (Hoi), Larkana Vatanawongsiree (Fon), Nimponth Chaisirikul (Hotel owner), Tunpicha Simasathen (Cat), Pitakpong Sillapasorn (Hea Mah); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Soo-jun Bae/Jun Hara/Naoki Kai/Takashi Kusube/Koichi Shibuya; Artist House Film; 2003-Japan/Thailand/U.K.-in English and Thai with English subtitles)
“Never seems to get on a coherent meaningful track.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title obscurely refers to a tesseract, a fourth dimensional cube that defies visualization in the third dimension. It’s a pretentious and muddled puzzler and existential thriller by Hong Kong born but Thai based cowriter and director Oxide Pang (“Ab-normal Beauty”/”Bangkok Dangerous”/”One Take Only”), his first film in English and is shot without the benefit of his more talented twin brother Danny who codirected with him the acclaimed horror film “The Eye.” It’s loosely based on Brit writer Alex Garland’s novel (follow-up novel to The Beach) and cowriter Patrick Neater turns in the inadequate screenplay, one that supposedly forgoes the novel’s heavier philosophical life changing themes on fate to make it into mostly an action-packed bang-bang crime drama (applying misplaced gravitas under such rowdy circumstances by repeatedly telling us between bloody executions that “no one can control a dream or life, as one has no choice but to open the door and look at what is before them”). That’s a big mistake overwhelming us with typical Hong Kong action scenes because it drowns out any chance for us to take its slight and heavy-handed mystical musings about karma seriously, as the film comes up looking stylishly pleasing (using an already overused overlapping narrative structure, handheld shaky cameras, jump cuts, sped-up and slow-mo shots to confuse the time sequences ala Memento and with Matrix-like slick bullet-time shots) but its story is empty (style over substance) and it never seems to get on a coherent meaningful track.

It involves four unsympathetic main characters whose lives randomly intersect at the seedy Heaven Hotel in Bangkok and are changed forever. Sean (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is a scraggy looking, nervous and sweaty, screw-up English drug courier, waiting in his room for his contact to score a big deal over the brick of heroin he’s expecting to transport to the local drug lords; Rosa (Saskia Reeves) is a depressed maternal-minded bleeding heart liberal English child psychologist interviewing Thai homeless slum children on her DV about their dreams and using them to compensate for the loss of her own youngster to a disease; Wit (Alexander Rendel) is a self-absorbed English speaking 13-year-old unschooled petty thief street urchin recently hired to work in the hotel as a bellboy and when not doing odd errands is rifling through the guests’ luggage while they’re out and selling their goods to fences and whenever caught is in such denial that he insists he’s a good boy who is honest; the fourth hotel occupant is an unnamed female Thai assassin on a mission to steal a drug shipment from one gang and then to deliver it to another, but the hit lady is severely wounded and will soon die in the hotel as the police investigate suspecting it to be a drug-related murder.

Wit is linked to the above three hotel guests through his unsavory contacts, and gets into a jam over his head when he steals Sean’s brick package. After the guilt-ridden Rosa in a misguided maternal gesture lays a huge sum of money on Wit to be a good boy as she leaves the country, he in return palms off the dope package on the naive lady by telling her it’s a gift of a special kind of Thai pudding. But the valued stolen package is sought after by the drug gangs and a desperate Sean, which leads to a brutal climax involving the three remaining main characters from the hotel caught in an ambush that they can’s see coming through their blind actions (which in a convoluted way signifies that these three confused characters missed the boat on life because they refused to see clearly what lay before them).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”