Junji ItoMaggie QSimon YamTomie
Model from Hell
Ripping off: Tomie
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Chun Keung Chiu
Original creator: Junji Ito [uncredited]
Keywords: horror
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese
Actor: Chi-Kwong Cheung, Gabriel Harrison, Maggie Q, Simon Yam
Format: 89 minutes
Series: << Tomie
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0295445/
Website category: Asian
Review date: 25 June 2012
It's a Tomie rip-off from Hong Kong. I might be wrong, but I bet I'm not. I also can't believe no one else seems to have noticed the similarity, because it's nearly as blatant as The Aslyum's mockbusters like Transmorphers, The Amityville Haunting and AVH: Alien vs Hunter. Even the dates are suspicious, since the unkillable Tomie movie franchise had started just the previous year with both Tomie and Tomie: Another Face released in 1999. Tomie: Replay came out in 2000. Allow me to list the points of similarity:
(a) beautiful woman (Tomie) with supernatural powers who can't be killed and instead will grow extra heads, body parts and even entire duplicate bodies... CHECK
(b) Tomie can cloud men's minds and uses this power to make them kill... CHECK
(c) incomprehensible plot... CHECK
(d) motivations of jealousy and sexual desire... CHECK
(e) story point about other characters taking photographs of Tomie... CHECK
(f) the immortal, unkillable Tomie keeps getting murdered by men who've been driven out of their minds with jealousy and desire... actually, no. They didn't copy that. However men do have a habit of murdering her and then pouring petrol on her corpse and burning it, so it's not as if this is a million miles away.
The biggest difference is that this is far weaker and shoddier than any of the official Japanese Tomie movies, which is saying quite a lot. The first half isn't even a Tomie movie at all, instead being generically annoying nonsense with bad acting and unlikeable characters. We begin with a slasher sequence that ends with a maniacal laugh to camera so bad that it belongs in a children's TV sketch show. One disturbing but probably accidental detail is that the killer's attack included a knife slash in the face.
This non-acted cameo is probably the second most likeable character in the movie.
At first, the main character appears to be Gabriel Harrison Chun Kit, whose acting is capable of being no less bad than Mr Cameo Psycho. He's a tycoon's grandson and such a girl-chaser that he'll cut two girls dead and walk away in mid-conversation just because a third one's come into view. In his first scene, he goes after four women in as many minutes. However that's only the beginning of his obnoxiousness, as is shown by stunts like splashing girls with urine and blagging his way into a school for models (eh?) by throwing around half a million of his grandad's money. He says he wants to be a model himself. Uh-huh. He has a patsy of a friend who's no more likeable, although in fairness I think the movie's aware that he's unsympathetic. He gets beaten up by his classroom instructor for leering down her top, for instance.
The girls though are no more endearing. One of them is our Tomie, here called Anna (Maggie Q). Two more are bitches who try to take nude photos of their rivals and whose exchanges with Chun Kit and his patsy might involve discussion of who's a stupid stray dog and who's a bitch.
There's only one character in this film who doesn't need his brains beaten out with a rock. That's Simon Yam. He's unobjectionable. I had no problem with him. He also gets no introduction and I don't know where his character sprang from, what he wants or indeed anything at all about the guy.
This should have been unwatchable, but surprisingly it's not. The film's so shoddy from the beginning that you're never in danger of putting in even the emotional investment you'd need to get annoyed. It's not worth even that much. I merely didn't care. It helped that there are hot women, but basically I was operating in the detached mode in which you might watch, say, a more than usually pointless reality show. There's not even any nudity, despite: (a) the taking of photos which are loosely described later as "porn", and (b) a sex scene.
None of this suggested Tomie, or anything like it. Imagine my surprise halfway through when Maggie Q made two people's heads explode by looking at them funny.
As a non-Tomie film, this movie is worthless. That's a strong word, but I'm using it carefully. However as an unofficial Tomie spin-off, it eventually builds up into something of mild interest. The "exploding head" special effects are so cheap that you'd expect better from schoolboys, involving as they do a small blood clot on a white surface, but there's more ambitious stuff later that's definitely entering Tomie territory. More often than not it still looks laughable, mind you. Kitchen wrap is used as ectoplasm, while Maggie Q's talking severed head is, um, not entirely convincing. Nevertheless the duplicate head, that thing coming out of the floor and the sub-Cronenberg body budding are all kind of freaky. Perversely the incomprehensible plot helps, since that's not inappropriate for something inspired by Junji Ito even if on this occasion it's due to the scriptwriter being as clueless as the audience.
There's also a surprising bit of throwaway cruelty when a girl gets stabbed. That could have been Korean.
The cast isn't as anonymous as you'd think. It's Maggie Q's movie debut, two years after she'd kicked off her acting career with a big hit in the TV drama House of the Dragon. Later in 2000 she acted in the Hong Kong action thriller Gen-Y Cops and impressed Jackie Chan so much that he got her into Manhattan Midnight and Rush Hour 2. Since then she's acted opposite Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible III, Bruce Willis in Live Free or Die Hard and Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman in Deception. These days she's living in Los Angeles and playing the lead role in CW's TV series Nikita. She's done very well for herself and ironically she's a far bigger name than any of the official Tomies to date. (Aoi Miyazaki doesn't count in Tomie: The Final Chapter - Forbidden Fruit.) She's also quite good in the role. She's beautiful enough to pull it off, which is important, and she's more than good enough as an actress.
The only problem is that she doesn't get enough of the limelight. Tomie is an unbelievable role. It's like playing the devil, but even more so. That's in theory, but unfortunately there's not enough Tomie in this Tomie film and Maggie Q doesn't feel as important in it as she should have been.
The other name worth noticing is Simon Yam, who's a respected Hong Kong actor and film producer who's worked opposite Chow Yun-fat and has worked in Hollywood. Needless to say, here he's better than his material.
The writer-director is stepping out of his comfort zone, incidentally. Chun Keung Chiu is a famous TV producer, but he hadn't made a movie since 1984 (Sex Beyond the Grave) until out of nowhere in 2000 he suddenly turned writer/director for the first and last time in his life and did two movies. The other is called Guys and a Cop and two of its main characters are called Dick-cock and Balls. Sounds... um, comparable with Model from Hell. He hasn't returned to films since.
Also the score is ripping off John Carpenter, including but not limited to his theme for Halloween.
The surprising good news is that this film isn't painful. It's achieving a low level of watchability, although that's merely because it doesn't even have enough there to hate. That's weak praise though and all the reviews I've seen of this one have been toxic. Nevertheless if you've latched on to the Tomie tie-in then you might just find enough to keep yourself interested. I did. However on the downside, if you've never heard of Tomie, you'll have no idea what's happening. Even knowing the framework of what it's ripping off, I was confused. If I hadn't had that meta-knowledge, it would have looked like meaningless plot soup with a few weird visuals. I'm quite pleased to have stumbled on an unsuspected Tomie tie-in, but I can't deny that it's a terrible movie.