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The Tesseract
cast: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Saskia Reeves, and Alexander Rendel

director: Oxide Pang-chun

96 minutes (15) 2003
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Momentum Asia DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
In a sweaty, grimy backpackers' hostel in Thailand, the lives of four strangers become intertwined. A naïve Englishman is smuggling drugs for a theatrically sinister local gang; a psychologist interviews children about their dreams, to ease the pain of the death of her own son. Street child Wit carries bags at the hostel, steals, and hustles to survive: and a female assassin who disputes the ownership of the drugs checks in to plan how to get them back. Despite having nothing in common, they are about to become bound up in one another's fates...

Oxide Pang's version of Alex Garland's lesser-known novel is slick, oppressive and authentically Thai, capturing the poverty and the banality of exploitation by a soulless tourist trade. Despite some early sequences of menace as the drug gang miss appointments, torment their courier, and finally turn up only to deliberately scare the hell out of him, it's a strangely low-key affair. Compared to similarly structured pieces like 21 Grams, the characters are shallow and undeveloped, and their responses to the increasing peculiarity of their situation are predictable. The strand dealing with mislaid drugs and consequent double-crosses is particularly well worn, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers fails to lift his paper-thin character above the hackneyed situation.

Saskia Reeves fairs better as the haunted psychologist struggling for an understanding of the inside of children's minds, supported by a terrific performance from young Alexander Rendel as the criminal but strangely innocent Wit. After an early move toward high-octane action, the assassin's story peters out in a confusing nod towards the supernatural, and the central characters' fates finally overlap in a violent confrontation that seems slightly at odds with the general tone of the film.

Perhaps a little more directorial explanation would have helped; but the DVD comes with only a trailer, so no luck there. The various parts don't add up to a satisfactory whole, but the film still boasts some good performances and a certain glamorous menace. Not a classic, but worth a look.

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