Color, 1998, 99 mins.

Directed by Po Chih Leong

Starring Jude Law, Elina L÷wensohn, Timothy Spall, Jack Davenport, Kerry Fox / Written by Paul Hoffman / Music by John Lunn & Orlando Gough / Cinematography by Oliver Curtis

Format: DVD - Miramax/Buena Vista (MSRP $32.95)

Letterboxed (1.85:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 5.1

Following closely in the footsteps of The Hunger, here's a modern day vampire tale (known everywhere except on home video as The Wisdom of Crocodiles) in which the main bloodsucker can move about in daylight, touch crosses, and weep, while no one ever utters the word "vampire" even while someone's chomping on their neck. Rather than a straight up horror film, this somber meditation on human duality uses its basic monstrous conceit to explore such heady topics as conflicting gender roles, man's will to live versus the right to die, and that old Cronenbergian standby, the body's ability to physically manifest its emotions.

As we open, lonely and upwardly mobile Steven Grlscz (Jude Law) stands beneath a tree where the smashed car carrying his now deceased girlfriend has been lodged after a tragic accident. After the police finally extricate the wreckage, Steven returns home and scribbles a cryptic note in one of his diaries. He then becomes involved with the emotionally fragile Maria (Kerry Fox), whom he drains of blood by biting her throat open during a lovemaking session. Apart from being a sensitive strain of vampire, Steven can externalize the emotions of his victims by expelling a tough, daggerlike shard from his throat after feeding. Two policemen, Inspector Healey (Gothic's Timothy Spall) and Sergeant Roche (Jack Davenport, who reunited with Law for The Talented Mr. Ripley) suspect that Steven may be criminally responsible for the deaths of his last two girlfriends, but they have have nothing more than circumstantial evidence. Steven begins yet another romance when he saves Anna (Nadja's Elina L÷wensohn) from hurling herself in front of a subway car. At first she rejects his advances, but the two tentatively establish a connection in which it becomes clear that Anna may be the woman Steven has been looking for.

If it weren't for the solid performances by all of the leads, The Wisdom of Crocodiles -- er, Immortality -- could have been a disaster. Law brings some much needed sympathetic layers to his portrayal, and his solid chemistry with L÷wensohn cmmpensates for the fact that very little actually happens until the last ten minutes of the film. Much of the thematic material is interesting, such as the basis for the original title (referring to the conflict between the predatory "reptilian" side of the human psyche versus the warmer "mammalian" one) and the symbiotic relationship between man and woman, good and evil. While director Po Chih Leong (who previously specialized in stylish Chinese dramas) piles on the visual flair and keeps a tight grip on the basic emotional core of the story, he hedges his bets in several frustrating instances. Obviously not confident with the methodical pacing, he occasionally interjects flashes of gore (including a thematically relevant but very squishy tracheotomy), nudity, and an incongruous sword/stickfight sequence involving a street gang.

Apart from a clumsy computer generated title card, the Miramax DVD of this film is pretty close to perfect. The image quality looks terrific, a vast improvement over the bland, cropped version released in 2000 on British home video, and the 5.1 audio mix is very active and manipulative for most of the running time. Some of the rear ambient effects are especially strange, while the orchestral music score is well rendered and atmospheric. Amazingly, the packaging gives no indication whatsoever that this is a vampire film, describing it instead as "a dark, mysterious crime thriller in the tradition of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Double Jeopardy!" Now doesn't that sound exciting?

As far as supplements go, the disc contains the U.S. theatrical trailer (for all six screens where it actually played) and an insubstantial making-of featurette, both of which retain the film's original title. The latter contains videotaped interview footage with both the star and director, as well as some behind the scenes footage. The disc also includes a dubbed French language track in standard surround.

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