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Magnolia Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/4/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/5/2013
I recently commented to my wife that I never get any Asian horror movies to review anymore. Of course, this is somewhat of an exaggeration, as recent months have seen reviews forSadako 3D and Tormented, so I guess that it would be more accurate to say that I don't see as many of these movies as I used to. During the early part of the millennium, when Hollywood was going nuts remaking scary movies from Hong Kong and Japan, I saw my fair share of these films. Now, I'm lucky to get one a quarter. So, even though I'd never heard of it, I dove into 23:59 with some excitement.
According to the Blu-ray Disc packaging, 23:59 is based on a true story. The film takes place in 1983 and focuses on a group of soldiers who are involved in basic training on a military base. The base is housed on a small island, and the area is famous for many ghosts stories. The young recruits tell one another that 11:59pm, or 23:59 in military time, is the most dangerous time of the night, as it's right before the witching hour. Rumor has it that a soldier died at that time on the base. Tan (Tedd Chan) sees a mysterious woman and boy wander through the barracks. When he tells the others, they ridicule him, especially Dragon (Lawrence Koh). Jeremy (Henley Hill), who has known Tan since childhood attempts to defend him. But soon, several of the soldiers begin to experience strange phenomenon, and Sergeant Kuah (Mark Lee) believes that a spiritual intervention is needed.
The first half of 23:59 gives us exactly what we want from an Asian horror film. The opening scene contains the ghostly woman and boy (and a bouncing red ball, which is apparently an international staple for horror movies), along with a shocking grotesque shot. From there, we are presented with a unique setting for a horror movie, as I can't readily recall seeing many (if any) scary movies which take place on a military base. While I don't object to a movie with a complex plot, the use of the "local ghost story" angle, complete with "You mean, you've never heard about..." moments, is always welcome, as it offers something to which the audience can relate. We get some decidedly creepy moments in the first half of the film, the best one being the scene in which the fit Jeremy can't complete his exercises. (This moment carried shades ofShutter.)
However, things really fall apart in the second half. Despite the fact that a death occurs, which is sort of shocking (it's not staged very well), the movie seems to forget that it's a ghost story. We get a lot of seemingly random scenes with soldiers arguing and an attempted exorcism (how did that get in there?). The finale brings back one of the local legends which was discussed, but it doesn't really make much sense or gel with the rest of the movie. (And there are some annoying leaps in logic in the ending as well.)
Given the number of truly classis Asian horror films which have come along over the years, a new entry really has to do a lot to stand out. Having said that, I try to not be too harsh on the genre and all that I ask is that it at least have some genuinely creepy moments and some nice visuals. At the outset, it looks as if 23:59 is going to fit that bill, but it truly falls apart in the second half and becomes quite boring. This marks Writer/Director Gilbert Chan's first foray into horror and while he doesn't complete the task, he does show some promise. (His next film is going to be horror as well.) In the end, the scariest thing about 23:59 is how the characters go back and forth between speaking Chinese and English. Is that common in Singapore?
23:59 offers some of the strangest insults that I've ever heard on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 27 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no noticeable grain and no defects from the source material. The image is a tad dark, but the colors still look good. The level of detail is acceptable, but I couldn't help but notice how flat the image looked when compared to other films on Blu-ray Disc. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a clever mix, as the sounds of the soldiers sounding off to the Sergeant pour from the rear speakers creating a very unique effect. The moments in the jungle provide nice stereo effects which show good separation. As with any film like this, the ghostly appearances are accompanied by a subwoofer boom.
The 23:59 Blu-ray Disc contains only two extras. "Making of 23:59" (23 minutes) opens with on-set footage and we then get comments from Writer/Director Gilbert Chan and Producer Eric Khoo, who discuss the origin of the story. From there the piece explores the characters and has interviews with the cast members. The piece then examines the production, including the actors training to be soldiers and the special effects makeup. The other extra is a TRAILER for the film.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.