Imagine the bastard love child of “Black Swan,” “Fight Club” and “LOST” and you might get something resembling “Magic & Loss.” Directed by second-time director Lim Kah Wai, “Magic & Loss” (along with the short “Exhalation”) is part of TIFF’s showcase of films either starring or produced by actress Kiki Sugino. If you haven’t heard of her, she’s apparently what TIFF calls the “Muse of Asian Indie Cinema.” That being said, neither Lim Kah Wai, nor Sugino manage to make “Magic & Loss” into anything other than a disjointed mess.
To put it simply, “Magic & Loss” is the story of two girls (and occasionally their sketchy hotel bellboy) who visit the strange island of Mui Wo located somewhere off the coast of Hong Kong. There’s palm trees, tropical waterfalls, sandy beaches and apparently, some kind of weird force that turns both girls from normal tourists into catatonic zombies who smile creepily at each other for the majority of the movie. By the end of the film, there’s some kind of “Black Swan”/ “Fight Club” revelation (it even comes with its own random pseudo-lesbian sex scene) that the girls have somehow become the same person. I think. I could be wrong here, as truth be told, I’m still trying to figure out just what it is that transpired during the film’s 81-minute run time.
There’s a seed of a good idea here. Creepy tropical island, strange locals, unsolved mystery? “Magic & Loss” could have easily been an interesting suspense film. Where the film falters is its execution. I’m hesitant to chalk it up to the fact that it’s an indie film—there have been plenty of great films made on low budgets over the past few years. But what makes any film enjoyable whatever its budgetary limits is 1) a good story and 2) good performances. Admittedly, “Magic & Loss” is a much more experimental film; the film’s dialogue is completely improvised and in three different languages (Japanese, English, Korean). By themselves, these elements have the potential to add a new dimension to the film. In this case however, it just adds to the confusion and gives us scenes with stunted, unnatural dialogue.
Nevertheless, credit should be given where credit is due. It’s not easy to go out and create a film from scratch, much less try and do something different. It’s even harder to put it out there for other people to watch and critique. And if highly experimental films are your thing, “Magic & Loss” might even be an enjoyable film to watch and be inspired by. If not, it’s probably a good idea to just get your movie fix elsewhere.