The Tesseract

Director: Oxide Pang
Stars: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Saskia Reeves, Alexander Rendell, Lena Christenchen
Time: 97 minutes
Year: 2003

The Pang Brothers have effortlessly floated between the Thai and the Hong Kong film industries and made a number of films for each. The Tesseract is a slightly different animal as it seems to fall into neither film industry but is aiming for more of an international audience with the main actors being English and the funding seemingly primarily from Japan. The story takes place in Thailand though and most of the crew is Thai – so it seems to make sense to put this review into the Thai film section. The film, which was released in 2003, did achieve some international success as it played in various festivals around the world and has been picked up for distribution in a number of countries. But for the most part the reviews have been less than positive and have accused Pang of once again falling into his self-made trap of prizing style over substance. I could not agree more.

Oxide brings his usual trappings to the film of jittery fast cut editing, lurid color schemes and off-kilter angles that are interesting but are becoming almost cliché for him. In one sex scene he uses the same effect of shooting it - so that it appears to be going around a rectangular box - that he did in “One Take Only”. In that film it made sense – making the first time a couple made love seem special and magical – but here it didn’t have that emotional meaning and was only for visual effect with no content behind it. Time is also played with for dubious effect.
Time lines are criss-crossed – going backward and forward and being seen from different perspectives. For example a man shows up at a door with a bandage on his face and the film zooms backwards so that we can see how this happens. Cause and effect. Sometimes the same moments are witnessed at various points through the film in different threads as the film follows various characters. The meaning of this is fairly clear – lives often intersect without knowing it – random people being in the same place at the same time but seeing it very differently – and eventually fate brings these random points together in tragedy. You are living your life when someone else's bad karma intrudes into your parallel world. Ok – so what? Every head on car accident in the world is a series of random events that led to tragedy – we don’t need slick filmmaking to tell us this. You sort of want to tell Oxide to take a year off from filming and study Wong Kar-wai who can use many of these same stylings to create emotional resonance – not distance the audience from it.
Like a character out of a Joseph Conrad novel, Sean (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers – Bend it with Beckham) is a low life Englishman waiting in a run down seedy Bangkok hotel that is ironically named Heaven. He is waiting for a drop off and slowly going crazy in his sweltering isolation and seeing Matrix like effects in his room and flies dive bombing like Zero's out of the sun. Some Thai gangsters are having him safeguard and transport a cache of heroin from his room to the dock on the following day. Why they would have chosen him is left unexplained. It turns out to be a bad selection.  Another lodger at this hotel is a clueless English woman named Rose (Saskia Reeves) who has come to Thailand to interview children as a means of therapy one assumes to get over the grief of her own dead son.
Two other characters enter into this story – one is a Thai female killer who has been tasked to get the drugs back – and she waits in the room below Sean’s with a bullet wound and a desire to stay alive long enough to carry out her assignment. Connecting these three characters to some degree is Wit (Alexander Rendell) – a young boy who works at the hotel in various menial jobs but makes up for this by being a petty thief. Rose finds him stealing her camera one day but takes pity on him as she is completely taken in by his smiling face as he plays this silly tourist for a fool. Not able to take the boredom any longer Sean invites a Thai bargirl back to his room – the upside down sex – and the next morning his stash is missing. His employers are not happy as events begin to unravel and bring many of these characters together in a splash of death. The film just never involves you – none of the characters are particularly sympathetic – they are near enigmas and their destinies have the same impact upon you as reading about a fatal car accident in the morning’s newspaper about people you don’t know and now never will.

My rating for this film: 5.5