Showing posts with label horror. Show all posts
Showing posts with label horror. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Busan 2020 Review: VESTIGE Ponders the Ineffable with Grace and Mystery

Part of MKC's coverage of the 25th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

Two Korean masters of arthouse cinema join forces for one of Busan's most intriguing offerings this year. Commissioned by the Muju Film Festival, Vestige features two mid-length films from Kim Jong-kwan (Worst Woman, 2016) and Jang Kun-jae (A Midsummer's Fantasia, 2014), which both deal with death and the afterlife in lyrical and understated ways. Though this light brush with horror is new territory for them, both directors retain elements of their trademark styles, while also hinting at new stylistic directions in their work.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Review: TRAIN TO BUSAN Rides the Rails With the Undead

By Pierce Conran

For his live-action debut Train to Busan, indie animation director Yeon Sang-ho, whose films The King of Pigs and The Fake have drawn international acclaim, has taken the zombie thriller, stuck it into the claustrophobic confines of a train, and taken aim at Korea's government and its hierarchical divides. A tense and inventive mix of genre thrills and social anxiety, Train to Busan is a Korean blockbuster with an unusually clear focus.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Coming Attractions: THE SILENCED Is Not Keeping Quiet Anymore

By Rex Baylon

What the hell is it about boarding schools that make it such prime real estate for horror films? I doubt Lee Hae-young is keen on trying to answer that question, but his new picture The Silence, reaching theaters this June, seems to be in no short supply of the requisite scares that this unique sub-genre is well-known for. Starring Park Bo-young, of A Werewolf Boy (2012) fame, as a young girl named Joo-ran who is transferred to an all girls boarding school that is suffering an epidemic of vanishing students. Why are they vanishing? Are they being kidnapped by some demonic force? Or just the typical human villains? I guess you'll have to wait a few more weeks to find out.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: HORROR STORIES 2 Slightly Improves Upon Its Predecessor

By Patryk Czekaj

At first glance, Horror Stories 2 looks like a more mature and self-conscious version of the original film. Though the chapters are still uneven and often come close to being simply absurd, the directors seem aware of the predecessors’ mistakes and ultimately create a gripping and penetrating atmosphere of terror, grounding their visions both in dreams and in a three-dimensional reality. This clarifies the structure of all the segments and gives them a much-needed touch of intrigue. Less cheap thrills based on jumps scares and nonsensical gore material makes Horror Stories 2 a serviceable allegory for the soul and its journey towards redemption.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

PiFan 2012: Zombie 108 (城Z-108, Taiwan) 2012

Part of MKC's coverage of the 16th Puchon International Film Festival.

Of the many genres out there available for our consumption, the zombie film holds a very special place in our cinematic diet. It is actually a subgenre, being an offshoot of horror but, just like the vampire film, it as been allowed to ascend to its own autonomous position, to be taken into consideration separately from its parent. Naturally, this comes with  particular set of problems.

Zombie films occupy a very narrow field within the medium. As potent as the concept can be, it only encompasses a specific set of tropes and narrative devices which have arguably survived long past their sell-by date. George A. Romero set off the genre in the late 1960s with Night of the Living Dead but 35 years later his own efforts have begun to look tired and recycled. In fact, the most popular zombie films of the last few years have arguably been comedies which poked fun at the genre, such as Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Zombieland (2009), as well AMC’s series The Walking Dead, which employs the novel approach of following a zombie narrative in longform.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

KOFFIA 2012: Metamorpheses (변신이야기, 2011) and the Impact of Film Schools on Korean Cinema

Part of MKC's coverage of the 3rd Korean Film Festival in Australia (previously published).

One of the aspects of Korean cinema which strikes people the most once they become acquainted with it, is the highly sophisticated level of the production values.  From a technical standpoint, Korean films are often on par or even above their Hollywood counterparts:  cinematography, sound, production design, editing, and even special effects are deftly handled with skill and care.  Wondering how this is the case for a national industry that had been until relatively recently a marginal one is a worthwhile question.  The answer therein lies in examining how a cultural and economic climate fostered this type of change.

During the intense state-driven globalization of a newly democratized Korea in the 1990s, which was known as seghewha, the cultural sector was heavily promoted.  With the creation of a few different motion picture laws that, among other things, provided tax breaks for investment in the film industry, the chaebol, which were large corporations such as Daewoo and Samsung, got involved in film production.  Just as you would modernize any other industry, the film industry’s production standards had to be quickly brought up to speed due in large part to the chaebol’s injection of significant amounts of capital.  However, it wasn’t just money that led to today’s technical proficiency.  I would argue that perhaps more than anything, it was the education of a skilled below-the-line workforce that contributed to the phenomenon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

PiFan 2012: Horror Stories (무서운 이야기, Nooseowoon Iyagi) 2012

Part of MKC's coverage of the 16th Puchon International Film Festival.

Omnibus horrors seem to be all the rage at this year's PiFan, with the inclusion of the much-ballyhooed V/H/S and the Indonesian ghost offering Hi5teria (not to be confused with period British vibrator comedy Histeria, which is also in competition). But the one with the highest profile this year was the Korean Horror Stories, which served as the event's opening film.

A group of talented filmmakers, most of whom are prominent genre filmmakers, were assembled for this production which many hoped would breath some life back into Korean horror cinema. Of late, K-horrors have been increasingly disappointing and the consensus is that there hasn't been a good example since the excellent Possessed (2009). Hopes were high for last year's trio of summer Korean horror offerings (the traditional season for the genre) but White: the Melody of the Curse, The Cat and Ghastly all failed to impress despite their potential.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Save the Green Planet (2003) and My Discovery of Korean Cinema - Part II

Originally posted on New Korean Cinema on January 24th, 2012

Genre-blending is a very prevalent technique in Korean cinema, the main reasons for this being economies of scale.  The larger a demography you can appeal to, the more likely you are to boost your attendance and therefore revenue streams.  But even in an industry replete with generic hybrids, Save the Green Planet takes the cake.  Korean filmmakers are so good at this technique that they have come close, as I have claimed before, to transcending generic labeling altogether.  Why does a film necessarily need to have labels ascribed to it?  Plenty of reasons, to make them more readily identifiable or targetable for instance, but I appreciate the freedom afforded by splicing so many conventions into long-form that our generic radars become obfuscated and thus we can be surprised again, another rarity in today’s cinema.  Not all appreciate this technique it must be said, even the immensely successful and popular The Host (2006), which is similarly poly-generic, has more than its fair share of detractors, who chiefly cite the film’s failure to settle on any distinct path.  I, for one, disagree with these people:  In my mind such a view is a product of complacency, comfort, and knowing what to expect.  It is also a way to control what we see, as though we can exercise some form of hegemony over what we watch, but that is a discussion for another day.

What I love about Save the Green Planet is its boundless energy and unchecked ambition.  It must be said that not everything works, to be honest, for some viewers maybe very little works, but rookie director Jang Joon-hwan doesn’t seem to have worried too much about what stuck and what didn’t, he was just having too much fun with the material (which he wrote) to worry about being measured or diplomatic.  The end work reflects this style as Jang’s filmmaking exuberance is infectious and the fun transmits directly to the viewer.  There’s no question that we share in his experience of having made this film.  The danger of course is that Jang’s film may have been a flash in the pan, it’s been eight years already and he has yet to tackle a sophomore feature though he did participate in 2010’s omnibus Camelia which I haven’t seen but have not read any great notices for.  More than anything, these days he’s know as successful actress Moon So-ri’s (Oasis, 2002) husband.

Byeong-gu (Shin Ha-kyun) believes in aliens, not only that but he believes that they are planning to destroy the planet and that he is the man to stop them.  Armed with pepper spray, a helmet and garbage bag garb to block alien brain waves, and his unwavering purpose, he and his tightrope walking girlfriend kidnap Man-shik, the CEO of a major corporation.  Byeong-gu believes that Man-shik (Baek Yoon-shik) is an alien and is determined to extract information from him in his isolated hillside lair in Kangwon province.

Essentially the film is a B-movie that splices in many cultish and violent elements to mount a frenzied and anarchic narrative.  For much of the film this is what Jang achieves but he does so with much more care and skill than we expect from other films of the same ilk.  The film immediately opens up with comedy and sci-fi before quickly moving on to what is tantamount to horror and torture porn.  Soon Jang throws in some procedural elements as the hunt is on for Man-shik’s abductor.  However it is at the two-thirds point that the film truly shows us what it is.  Its scope, which was already substantial, takes on voluminous proportions as we are filled in on Byeong-gu’s backstory and his connection to Man-shik, not to mention what may be behind his paranoia.


Like many a Korean film before it and just as many that followed, Save the Green Planet delves into its protagonist’s past and weaves the narrative threads together with melodrama.  Seemingly a tough proposition, this actually works remarkably well in the form of a well-edited montage, aided by a moving and lush string theme led by a melancholy cello.  If this weren’t enough our quick journey through Byeong-gu’s life serves as a searing indictment of society and authority in recent Korean history.  Suddenly what seemed like a curious oddity, albeit an exhilarating one, is infused with purpose.  But Save the Green Planet is an especially special kind of film so woe betide it to stop just there as Jang punches into high gear with a big leap up to the macro level.

When Man-shik finally confesses his origin a new montage unfurls which hurtles us through an alternate history of our entire civilization.  It’s a witty and crafty story but it too hides an ace up its sleeve as Man-shik recounts the atrocities of human civilizations, accompanied with footage of some of our unbecoming history’s most infamous acts of iniquity.  Jang is lamenting the violent gene inherent in our species but it’s a double-edged sword as he fully recognizes and embraces its existence in his own DNA, as evidenced by the violent nature of his film.


It should be a priority for anyone serious about Korean cinema or indeed cinema in general to take the time to watch this film.  Easily one of the most innovative works made in the last ten years, Save the Green Planet is a veritable tour-de-force that almost redefines the purpose and possibility of cinema.  Out of the many trips I’ve taken to the theater, which stretch well past a thousand, the midnight screening of Jang’s film is still my fondest silver screen experience.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Save the Green Planet (2003) and My Discovery of Korean Cinema - Part I

Originally posted on New Korean Cinema on January 24th, 2012

Once upon a time during a cold, wet winter’s night, my tattered shoes leaking, I trod the murky streets of Dublin for an hour on a rainy Saturday night.  At the time I had only just moved to the Emerald city and though I knew many people in town I rarely fraternized with anyone on the weekends.  It wouldn’t take long for this to change but it didn’t really make me feel lonely, in fact I felt liberated.  After six years of boarding school a few miles up the Liffey River and fifteen of holidays and odds and ends locked away in a remote village in the xenophobic Swiss Alps, my wet feet and permeable clothing didn’t bother me as much as they might have.  The best part of my newfound freedom was that I could go to the cinema however often I pleased, better still was my unlimited membership to the local UGC cinema.  For a few quid a month I could indulge in a wealth of cinema spread across seventeen screens.  My weekends were spent living in the theater and I would often watch four or five movies on the trot.

On this particular Saturday night near the end of 2004 I caught a late show at around ten o’clock but I can’t for the life of me remember what I saw.  But what I’ll never forget is what I watched next.  In those days while the distribution company Tartan was still solvent, they used to stage an ‘Asia Extreme’ roadshow which, according to Film Cut, “toured then UGC cinemas (now Cineworld Cinemas) around the UK with the programme of films that Tartan considers to be the most daring examples of ‘extreme cinema’.”  I had seen a funny-looking poster of a grinning man wearing a garbage bag while riding planet Earth and I decided to watch this film based solely on the fact that it was Korean.  Back then I had only dabbled in Korean films but what I had seen had left a strong impression on me.

My first introduction to Asian cinema came when I was researching some versions of Macbeth I could watch for my English class in secondary school.  Having already got my hands on Orson Welles’ and Roman Polanski’s versions I dug a little deeper and heard about an old Japanese film called Throne of Blood (1956) by some guy called Akira Kurosawa.  The title seemed a little silly to me but I’d heard it was quite good so I tracked down a BFI copy on Amazon and popped it in the player.  I think it’s fair to say that the axis of my life shifted somewhat that day.  Kurosawa’s take on Shakespeare was brilliant, it was magnificent, it was mesmerizing, and I was in awe.  Completely forgetting about my English class I delved headfirst into Japanese cinema and I rarely came up for air for months.

A while later I was browsing through the Asian film section of my local FNAC (a French media retailer) in Switzerland when I came across a really nifty deluxe, embossed, double-DVD package.  It was green, there was some shiny blood on the cover, it looked kind of out there, and it had a really cool name so I picked it up thinking it might be somewhat akin to a Takashi Miike film, whose catalogue I was raging through at the time.  The film was Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and it was nothing like all the Japanese films I had seen because of course it was Korean, but I hated it.  It was unremittingly bleak and gratuitously violent, which I was no stranger to, but in a manner that was so downbeat and realistic that I was traumatized by it for a week, until I was compelled to watch it again.  During the second go-round, once again my axis shifted ever so slightly.  I was beguiled and repulsed at the same time, anger and sadness coursed through me but it was not my own.  Though I would not know it for a while, I had stumbled upon ‘han’, the melancholy which permeates so many of the very best Korean films.  For the time being I was electrified and I needed more, so back to the shelves of FNAC I went.  This time I came back with a double bill of Peppermint Candy (1999) and The Isle (2000).  The former taught me infinitely more about Korea than I had ever known and the latter shocked and impressed me.  This introductory triptych of Korean film already had me drawing parallels and marveling at how an emerging national cinema could be so fresh, self-aware, and successful.

It was this feeling that led me into the theater that was exhibiting a midnight séance of Save the Green Planet (2003), despite the tacky poster.  I was the first person there so I had my choice of seating, as I always do I opted for dead centre in the middle row.  As it turned out I was the only person who came in for this screening but that was fine by me.  I had no expectations for the film and I certainly didn’t think it could match any of the three Korean works I had already seen but then the projector started rolling.

It’s a funny thing to be surprised these days, more and more we are trained to expect things.  We witness events and minutiae unfold in an infinite cycle of cause and effect.  When we walk into a theater we are loaded to the gills with expectations.  In the grand scheme of things there is actually very little that we don’t know regarding what we are about to see.  We know it’s a film, we assume there will be images projected on screen and that some combination of dialogue, music, and foley sound will blare out from the sound system.  We’re fairly certain that there will be people, a story, relationships, props, locations, and much, much more.  All that even before the media barrage that we are relentlessly subjected to in the digital era.  We may know the actors, the director, the writer, the genre, the plot summary, or the country of origin.  We may have seen the poster, the trailer, clips, seen reviews, or even read the book that the film is based on.  Every so often I like to walk into a film with zero expectations, besides those very first ones I’ve listed, but increasingly it’s become very difficult to do this.  Given how much I read online about films I can’t really stroll into a multiplex and not know something about every film on the marquee.  The best place to do this is film festivals, even the most well-informed and up-to-date cinephile is not privy to information regarding absolutely every film on a reputable international event’s program.

On this occasion I was at a multiplex but the Tartan ‘Asia Extreme’ roadshow served as a kind of mini festival and in any case I was not familiar with a number of the films, including Save the Green Planet.  The only things I knew about it were that it was Korean and that it looked weird, after a few minutes I also ascertained that Shin Ha-kyun was in it, as I knew him from Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.  But before recognizing him, I was already hooked.

The opening montage, with a frenetic voiceover explaining a ludicrous theory about a businessman posing as an alien, was exuberant, wacky, and completely unexpected.  It was breathlessly paced, hilarious, and featured some strong mise-en-scene which included brilliant editing and an expertly placed swell in the score.  The hooks were in and I was ready for and thrilled to be on this ride.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sector 7 (7-gwang-goo) 2011

Straight off the bat I can say that the most anticipated Korean blockbuster of 2011, aside from Christmas’ war epic My Way from Jang Je-gyu, is easily the worst film I’ve seen all year, no matter how you look at it.  It’s very easy to see what went wrong, one bad decision was made after another, with barely any right ones in between.  What is not so easy to understand is how things went wrong.  Though I would not label Sector 7’s filmmakers as the cream of the crop, they normally seem to know what they’re doing and consistently deliver solid, if overly sentimental fare.  They are endowed with a keen ability to whet Korea’s insatiable appetite for melodrama.

Oil rig bonding
Curiously, there is little to no melodrama in Sector 7.  It hints at it a few times but seems to abandon it in favor of concocting a copycat medley of rehashed Hollywood plot devices and production techniques.  It is truly a triumph of expectation over delivery as I cannot imagine any producer seeing a cut of this expensive bomb and proclaiming “We have a hit on our hands!”  The film’s pre-release exposure was enormous, everyone (at least in Korea and on the internet) knew about it being the first Korean 3D IMAX film, numerous posters and trailers were available, and the entertainment rags were all talking up Ha Ji-won’s arduous workout regimen.  When the day came, it opened very strong before the poisonous word of mouth pulled it right back out of theaters within weeks.

Clearly it was the intent of Yoon Je-kyoon (producer/writer) and Kim Ji-hoon (director) to copy every similar film that had met with a lot of success in the hope that their synthetic product would also be a big hit.  Ha Ji-won is basically an Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver’s iconic character in the Alien franchsie) stand-in, the oil rig is from Armageddon (1998), a major character’s death and resurrection is lifted from the first Lord of the Rings, the genesis of the monster is not dissimilar to Korea’s own The Host (2006), and the list goes on.

Ha Ji-won, tough as nails... apparently
In fact, the film is a veritable cornucopia of metanarratives.  Curiously, aside from lifting all of its plot elements, characters, set-pieces, and effects from other movies, it also has a link to the popular K-Drama Secret Garden (2010) which ends with Ha Ji-won’s stuntwoman character being given the script of Sector 7.  Clever synergy?  I suppose so.  Even stranger is that her characters in both the show and the film are identical.  Women that are physically strong but emotionally weak and incapable of making decisions.  Stranger still is that her tragically deceased father is incarnated by Jeong In-gi in both.  Everything about Sector 7 is constructed, even the sets aren’t real as most of it was shot on green screen.  As a result it barely feels like a film and the chief cause of this is just how badly it is made. 

Unlike Yoon’s previous blockbuster, the tsunami-themed Haeundae (2009), Sector 7 spares little time for scene-setting and character development. A brief underwater intro features a pair of oil drillers setting in place a pipe.  A couple of little glowing creatures swim around them, suddenly they attack and one of the men falls to his death.  Fast forward to the present where we are directly introduced to the hardy (but strangely Spartan) crew of an oil rig.  They are battling with a malfunctioning pipe and being doused in brute petroleum, no doubt reinforcing the intrinsic bond between them.  Cha Hae-joon (Ha Ji-won) is pretty but tough as nails and shows grit alongside the men.  A couple of scenes explore the relationships between the rig’s crewmen (and woman), which is to say that nothing happens.  One of those glowing creatures is found and then Anh Suh-kee (Hae-joon’s mentor) comes aboard to aid the exploration of the new underwater oil fields.  Of course he knows more than he lets on and blah blah blah blah blah…

The first of many oil rig bike scenes
What is it that can make a film go oh so wrong?  B-movies, as I’ve explored in my I Am a Dad review, benefit from lowered expectations.  Conversely, when you suffocate the nation’s media outlets for a month, touting your bigger-than-anything-you’ve-ever-seen-before-it blockbuster, you suffer from heightened expectations.  When you go down the latter route but produce a film on par (or below, as is the case) with the former course, you’re left with a big problem that is pretty much irreparable.  You’ve promised something spectacular and eventful but have completely failed to deliver.  Worse than a bad filmmaker, this makes you a liar.

More than anything else, and there’s a lot, two things bothered me the most about Sector 7.  One is the incomprehensibly bad rear-projection technique used in the bike sequences, of which there are four… on an oil rig.  The quality is what you would expect from the 30s or 40s not 2011, worse still is watching Ha Ji-won madly rev the bike and swoop down to her left and right sides, she actually looks like a little 6-year-old boy pretending to ride in a Grand Prix. Yoon, who also produced this summer’s Quick, seems to have a bike fetish.

Sacrifice: LOTR style
The second, and perhaps more upsetting point, is the film’s latent mysoginy.  Hae-joon embodies both male and female traits, the problem is that the male traits are the hero ones, and the female traits are all ugly stereotypes.  Additionally, for a film that attempts to make Ha Ji-won a consummate action star by pitting her as a conquering heroine against a vicious antagonist, the heroics are mostly reserved for the men.  Throughout the film, they are repeatedly sacrificing themselves, one of the characters does so twice! Another does so to save his friend, in what I’m assuming is supposed to be an emotional scene (no such luck).  After he does so, his friend remains rooted to the spot, whimpering, not trying to escape and is then quickly impaled.  In more able hands this might have been a clever send-up but no such attempt is made here, which begs the question, what was the point?

If you decide to get on board Sector 7, here’s what you can expect: wild lapses in logic, rampant misogyny, numerous laughably atrocious rear-projection motorcycle sequences, complete disregard for the natural laws of physiques, risible dialogue and matching delivery, an ugly monster that is never hidden from view, and perpetual references to superior films that it could never hope to match.  Your choice…

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hero (Hi-eo-ro) 2010

It wasn’t even a minute after turning on Hero that I realised I was truly scraping the bottom of the barrel.  Frankly, the only reason I watched it was to be thorough with regards to my soon to be published 2010 Korean film project.  In order to really examine the year’s output, I feel obliged to watch some films that I know are going to be bad but I always hope that they may surprise me.  Hero went the other way, it landed severely below my already diminished expectations.  I’m nearly inclined to think that the whole thing is some kind of joke, to say that the film eschews realism is putting it mildly.  It seems to me that there are entire scenes missing as the plot jumps from one place to the next.  For a moment I even thought this may have been some kind of student film but after a little research it seems that director Kim Hong-ik has had over a decade of experience, which means I can’t really cut him any slack.  Hero only sold 1500 tickets in Korea and this makes me wonder what kind of market it was intended for.  With such a poor showing I can’t imagine it was marketed aggressively for its theatre run, maybe it was initially conceived as a TV and straight to DVD release.

Bullied in high school
In any case, Hero is a high school vampire film, clearly trying to milk the global Twilight phenomenon.  Sim-dan (Kim Hyeong-gyoo-I) is a high school student, constantly bullied, and in love with Mi-ah (Lee Da-in), who he has had a bad habit of videotaping surreptitiously.  Yoo-ri (Han Ye-won), a vampire, bits him one night and turns him.  Thereafter, he becomes stronger, meaning he can confront his tormentors, and more confident, so he can make his move on Mi-ah.  You can guess how the rest of it unfolds.

As I frequently mention (and celebrate) on this site, Korean cinema is very adept at blending different genres.  Hero, rather than successfully sampling different generic tropes, simply doesn’t know what it wants to be, as it dabbles in comedy, horror, drama, romance, etc.  More worrisome is the amateurish mise-en-scene.  The editing, camerawork, and especially the sound are poor quality, mistakes are frequent and disruptive.  The soundtrack is also far too prominent, it places too much emphasis on certain pieces of music at varying points. 

Sim-dan and Yoo-ri, the vampire who turned him
While the film starts out very badly, it does balance itself out somewhat after the opening act, though it still leaves much to be desired.  I don’t want to waste your time discussing this film so I’ll keep it brief.  Hero should probably be avoided by all but the least discerning spectators.  Its cocktail of bad acting, shoddy production values, and incoherent plotting is the result of laziness on the part of the filmmakers and if they can’t respect their audience enough to make a real effort, than I daresay you shouldn’t give them your time or money.

Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema.  For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office UpdateKorean Cinema News and the Weekly Review Round-up, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (GMT+1).

To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Cat (Go-hyang-i: Jook-eum-eul Bo-neun Doo Gae-eui Noon) 2011

To be honest, it's not very difficult for a film to give me a scare, or rather a bit of a jolt. However, unlike yesteryear's films like The Shining (1980) and Don't Look Now (1975), which truly inspired terror, the current breed of horror cinema more often than not relies on the juxtaposition of judicious editing and loud noises. It's an effective technique, because it works on me, but it is not honestly earned and therefore results in just a fleeting sensation which leaves no lasting effect. Also, once the string section has made its impact and we see the ghost/killer/weapon, all the tension disappears, therefore any subsequent action leaves no impression until the next build-up of tension. I may not be a huge horror buff but it really bothers me that so few horror films even attempt to do more than repeat this technique throughout a feature’s running time.

The pet store
Sadly The Cat falls into this category of frankly lazy filmmaking, worse it displays no panache with the scares it attempts to conjure. The moments of tension are very brief and don't amount to much. The problem is that they are so clearly foreshadowed that you can nearly anticipate the exact moment that every reveal occurs. I don't think I flinched once during the film, which is both a surprise and a victory for me.

The story is extremely simple, So-hee (Park Min-yeong) works in a pet store, one of whose clients dies in an elevator, leaving behind only a cat, which So-hee takes care of. With this new addition comes visions of a scary little girl with cat-like eyes and a rotted face. Since she is already in therapy, she thinks she is just seeing things but soon it becomes clear that this cat is linked to the deaths of the people around her.

As Tom Giammarco remarked in his review, The Cat successfully held its big reveal until the end, which for baffling reasons many films don't seem to do. Theoretically, this should keep the suspense level up during the film's running time. Unfortunately, in this case there is no real suspense to begin with. There are a number of reasons why this film didn't work and I think that they are readily identifiable.

The animal pound
First and foremost, the story was quite dull. It was very easy to follow but felt very stretched over the 105 minute running time. The world that the plot inhabited felt very limited and was not populated with interesting characters. Secondly, the mise-en-scene was uninspired, especially given the technical skill demonstrated by its Korean contemporaries. The cinematography was functional and coupled with the banal and nearly monochromatic production design, costumes, and color schemes, the whole affair was quite drab. Lastly, I was left cold by Park Min-yeong’s performance, she is very pretty to be sure but I could not care one ounce for her character. I was particularly nonplussed by her ridiculous facial expressions.

Korea’s film history is known, principally, for its effective melodrama. Consequently this means that as a national cinema it is predisposed to the production of horror films, especially the kind that features past trauma that comes back to haunt people. Just like more typical melodramatic fare, Korean horror films tend to visit protagonists’ and antagonists’ traumatic backstories as a means to explain the supernatural and/or violent happenings in the diegetic present of their narratives.

Park Min-yeong as So-hee
The Cat explores both the principal character’s scarred past, which manifests itself in claustrophobia and psychiatry sessions, and the antagonists’ agonizing backstory. Although each is kept secret right until the end, neither are worth the payoff, and though they are somewhat logical, they aren’t very interesting or original. What is more unfortunate is that the film doesn’t really explore its concept. Cats have always had supernatural connotations and as Tom Giammarco articulately pointed out in his article on the history of supernatural cats in Korean cinema, they have been very prominent but of late they seem to have disappeared as a source for K-horror, until this film. Although there are many haunted and possessed cats in The Cat, I felt that they weren’t used as much more than a prop, since the haunted presence in this film is another of the oh-so prevalent little girl ghosts.

For the most part I was very bored when I watched this film, the story was beyond lacklustre, the characters rigid and one-note, and the horror was soporific. I can excuse a good idea that isn’t successfully brought to screen or a talented group of filmmakers who lack a good story, but I cannot abide a film which takes the easy way out at every turn and makes no effort with its mise-en-scene. I felt let down by The Cat and worse, that I wasted my time. I expected a lot more from director Byeon Seung-wook, who previously worked as the assistant director on Lee Chang-dong's sublime Peppermint Candy (1999).

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