Forest of Death or Sum yeun (2007)
Forest of Death or Sum yeun (2007) is ostensibly set in Thailand — it’s a Hong Kong film and, despite China’s efforts to make the newly reacquired territory a bigger better place to live, there’s no actual room for what’s supposed to be a large forest. A relocation to a more expansive location with an all-Hong Kong cast is therefore in order to get this film made. Now the question for director and screenwriter Danny Pang is how many ways he can make a forest seem spooky for, as is often the case with a Pang film, whether solo or as the brothers, this is a thriller with a police procedural theme leading into a supernatural horror sequence and ending with science fiction. And therein lies the key problem with the film. If the director had decided to make a film in just one of these genres, it could have been very good. But the naturalism of the police investigation with the backing of a scientist working with plant biology is immediately sacrificed when it morphs into what looks, at first sight, to be supernatural, and then is completely destroyed by the science fiction explanation at the end. This is not to say that I instinctively reject detective stories that end up dealing with supernatural or science fictional threats. There have been films where consistency of tone makes the transition between the genres work well, e.g. Fallen (1998) in which a series of murders can only be explained if the detectives believe in angels, or Predator 2 (1990) in which the detective gets to fight for his life. But Forest of Death has no such consistency. It just jumps from one genre to another without feeling the need to bridge.
So let’s get to the plot, such as it is. As the title suggests, a lot of people have gone missing or died in this forest. The largest percentage are suicides but, early in the film, Commissioner Wong (Suet Lam) sends Detective C C Ha (Qi Shu) to investigate the rape and murder of a fellow detective. Fairly quickly, she identifies Patrick Wong (Lawrence Chou) as the most probable killer. The problem is how to prove it. In a parallel thread, Shum Shu-hoi (Ekin Cheng) is trying to develop the technology to communicate with plants. This goes somewhat beyond the usual measurement of electrical fields, and suggests the possibility of the practical exchange of messages so long as the plants learn how to understand human emotions. He’s involved with May (Rain Li) who, as an investigative television journalist, is trying to make a name for herself by investigating the forest. Finally, we have the creepy old guy who lives on the fringes of the forest. Mr Tin (Siu-Ming Lau) whose granddaughter is one of those who has gone missing.
When you put all this together, Detective Ha asks Shum to talk to the trees in the forest while Mr Tin keeps muttering darkly that no good will come of it all. We then have apparently supernatural things happening in broad daylight which is mildly innovative. Too often film-makers wait for night and hide third-rate special effects in the shadows. This has leaves falling, wind blowing, sudden fog appearing and trees apparently moving around as our accused is led into the forest and, with the press looking on, suddenly finds himself compelled to confess to the murder. It’s patently silly. With more bodies turning up, May wonders off into the forest in despair, thinking Shum has dumped her in favour of Ha. When she “disappears”, Ha, Shum and Mr Tin go in on a rescue mission when all is conveniently explained in science fiction terms (and the forest spits May out as being the wrong type).
If you think aliens would be fascinated by aspects of human psychology and so would sit patiently in a Thai forest waiting for people with the right mental characteristics to wander into their flytrap for scientific investigation, this is the film you’ve been waiting for. But if, like most sane people, you think aliens would sit quietly in a large city with a high suicide rate and pick up test subjects unobtrusively, then you need not bother watching this film. It will insult your intelligence. Put another way, Forest of Death or Sum yeun has cardboard characters and wooden acting in one of the daftest science fiction films of the decade and, unless like me, you have a death wish and so plumb the depths of cinema hoping to find the unheralded gems, you should give this a miss.