“Seriously, you have something in your mouth.”
Genre: Louche Foreign Vampireness
Release Date: 2021
Where I Watched: Shudder
Story: Meet a group of twenty-something children of billionaires in Taipei. Living life the way they feel like it, doing whatever they want, whenever they want to. And they’re bored out of their gourds. One night, Our Gang picks the wrong place to go camping in the middle of the woods. Beautiful old temple area? Yep… Gorgeous, but cursed? Probably. A local man comes by and do some kind of strange ritual mixing blood, smoke and who knows what. Sure go ahead and breathe that in y’all. I’m sure nothing will go wrong…hey, they’ve got fangs now!
Talky talk: If you’re looking for a slow burn story where vampires navel gaze and think about how life is affecting their meaningless lives? Look no further. Beautiful takes a lot of beats from other films, like Less Than Zero, Crazy Rich Asians, and The Lost Boys, so it’s almost worth watching just to pick out all the homages. However artistic this film may be, the story feels hollow. It’s as if the film is just like its characters, trying desperately to figure out what to say to its audience that’ll leave a lasting mark.
Big bonus points for the multicultural cast – Chinese, Russian, indecipherable UK hodgepodge. The dialogue shifts from Chinese to English back and forth. (Sorry, I don’t know exactly what kind of Chinese… Mandarin? Cantonese? I’m A Idiot.) This language roulette works in the film’s favor, as viewers will have to focus on the film rather than having it play in the background. And if you’re not focused on Beautiful, you’ll end up lost. No, it’s not deep; this is the kind of film that’ll lose a half-in audience due to the ennui that’ll build up if you’re not forcing yourself to give a crap about these characters. Which is a tough road, because they’re all selfish, narcissistic asshats in their own special snowflake kinda way. They get into the whole fangy predicament because they’re bored of everything else they usually do. So when the fangs come, it’s just one more thing that catches their attention for a brief moment, then becomes a drag, along with everything else in their lives. It feels like Beautiful could have worked a much deeper, more interesting story and message into their story, but became bored with their own project halfway through. Pity.
The performers all do what they’re supposed to do, which is look beautiful on camera and project an air of dissatisfied ambivalence towards the world. And while each character deals with their own vampirism in their own way, not one becomes a more interesting person. Even the token “drunk with power” character is dull as dishwater. And while there are “big reveals” here and there in the last half hour or so, these plot points are unveiled with little fanfare, and zero emotional reaction from any of our characters. Even the final scene wraps with a “well, guess that’s what’ll happen” shrug.
I’d have liked for it to be a really deep treaty on Next Generation Wealth looking into themselves, navel-gazing a bit, and then trying to do better than their parents, with varying results. But the screenplay is too messy and never gets past surface-level ideas, as if the director was too busy trying to get that perfect shot…and forgot about giving viewers a story worth sinking their teeth into.
Come for: The 21st century spin on East Asian vampire myth.
Stay for: The film’s gorgeous Crazy Rich Asian-Vampire aesthetic.