Slim Till Dead

Reviewed by Lee Alon

Opposite Andy and Sammi's successful Love on a Diet lies Slim Till Dead, a macabre treatment of obesity and beauty worship in a vein akin to Seven by David Fincher, and definitely not similar to the two Hong Kong superstars' comedic take on this issue. STD features Anthony Wong, among the world's most prolific actors, and arguably one of the best to boot. Wong reprises for this one his confused, almost timid cop personality from the Infernal Affairs series, although naturally the two characters have no relation. They do share a troubled professional past, with Wong's character, Inspector Wong, in the new film suffering from acute gun shyness due to accidentally killing a child while pursuing criminals.

Wong thereafter takes charge of a bizarre string of murder cases involving victims from the city's resident health spa and beauty pageant community. A high-profile televised contest featuring a slew of stunning beauties (including several busty ladies to challenge your rewind button on the odd lonely night) attracts particular attention from the demented killer, who seems intent on slimming down prey to a bare 80lbs. A special police task force then steps in, with obvious cynicism, to help prevent the show's cast and patrons from culminating in a premature, bloody demise.
At first, events take on a slightly jocular air, and the movie indeed does take a few demerits for mixing comedy and visceral ritualistic homicide with little success. Fortunately, it changes gears later as Wong's crew realize just how serious a threat they face, and proceedings move on to form a thriller full of gore and atmospheric locales where eerie danger lurks literally around every corner and down each dimly lit hallway.
Aiding sardonic Wong are his dashing second in command (long-absent Raymond Wong from PTU, Love Undercover plus Hidden Heroes), a photographer turned investigator (newcomer Angel Wu), and Wong's wife Ling, (Shereen Teng) an expert profiler and all-round anchor for the harried police officer. The latter shares a loving but rocky life with Wong, often exiling him to the discomforts of the living room whenever he misbehaves. Another important factor in the unfolding drama is Junie, an employee of the beauty show's organizer and overall mousy individual. She's done by Cherrie Ying (last seen in Himalaya Singh), who once more showcases her range and ability to play a variety of roles with great aplomb. The girl has enough facial expressions for a small army, and quickly alternates between moods and states of mind. Coupled with her hilariously funny appearance in Himalaya Singh, one can see why she's in such high demand at the moment.
The story progresses scene by scene through a very coherent yet pleasantly disorienting brand of story telling, each position done with more than adequate attention to detail and vibe, as protagonists try to pinpoint who's behind the gruesome body count. Although not too violent or explicit, Slim Till Dead succeeds in conveying an intimidating, spooky air peppered with comic relief anecdotes. Most of those aren't up to par, although one brief moment does work nicely when a would-be victim, an actress, takes part in filming a spoof of Three Extremes: Dumplings.
As a package this project takes off efficiently enough, making the most of its technical faculties while avoiding excessive pandering to whatever currently stands for le cool de jour. Anthony's not too strong in this one, but he does manage a diverse role, with a moderately touching moment with his wife towards the end. Talent-wise, though, the show belongs to ingénue Ying and to cinema mogul Wong Jing's prolonged cameo as the police unit's chief.
As for the subject matter, Slim Till Dead devotes a token amount of time and effort to explaining how hurtful being grossly overweight can be, but it's not the main event here and there's hardly any commentary on the subject to begin with. STD's referral to the popular hot issue results in a bit of a red herring, just like Wong spends much of the story time chasing an unknown foe. Despite a gooey happy ending that's liable to vanquish your enjoyment of the movie, we recommend watching it for its suspense, style and curvaceous female guest starts. It also echoes an older breed of Hong Kong movie, the one that's less sanitized than the material normally coming out these days. You know, where wackiness isnít necessarily kept to a minimum and where emotions go on a rollercoaster ride, moving from stoic bravery to tearful shambles in the blink of an eye. For that alone, we feel applauding Slim Till Dead warranted.

Rating: 7/10

Directed by Marco Mak
Starring Anthony Wong, Shereen Teng, Cherrie Ying, Raymond Wong, Angel Wu
2005, 92 minutes, Cantonese/Putonghua

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