Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Revenge Week: The Dubious Revenge of To Sir, with Love (2006)

Part of MKC's Revenge Week (July 8-14, 2013).

This piece comes courtesy of Natasha Harmer, a member of the brilliant Coventry University East Asian Film Society (CUEAFS).

Is a classroom accusation of soiled underpants really a good reason to exact brutal revenge on your classmates and teacher sixteen years later? Well according to Im Dae-woong’s directorial debut To Sir, with Love (aka Bloody Reunion), it is.

The convoluted plot is centred on a reunion between an elderly and very ill teacher and a group of her past students sixteen years after their graduation. The film harks back to classic 70s and 80s horror like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), but with brutal gore that resembles the depraved torture porn of more recent films like Hostel (2005). Im has made a very obvious attempt to reinvent the horror genre and make the film his own but in his endeavour not to conform to conventions, To Sir, with Love is so confusing with its twists and turns that it becomes impossible to follow. Korean revenge cinema usually has some kind of twist (take 2003's Oldboy for example) but very often there’s only one; To Sir, with Love has more twists than a snake on a rollercoaster.

Retired teacher Mrs. Park gave birth to a deformed son, whom she kept in a basement with a bunny mask to cover his deformities. He was ridiculed and picked on by her students, so sixteen years later when a bunny-masked villain starts picking off the same students, Mrs. Park’s deformed son seems like a likely suspect (Leatherface anyone?). However, in an attempt to avoid a clich├ęd conclusion, it turns out that it isn't her deformed son after all.

While it is a satisfyingly gory, dark and twisted tale, it lacks a solid storyline and the reason behind its brutal revenge is hard to believe. If you can suspend your disbelief, it’s an enjoyable film, but if you’re already scratching your head at dirty underwear being the reason for mass murder then perhaps you should steer clear. Korean revenge cinema generally gives the protagonist a damn good reason for exacting revenge, like being kidnapped and locked in a cell for thirteen years, but rarely is their motive a bit of petty name calling. To Sir, with Love is an interesting mish-mash of horror sub-genres that deliberately avoids conforming to convention; it harks back to many classic horror films but sadly falls short of the mark and the revenge theme feels contrived and laughable.

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