Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Korean Horror – Three Short Reviews

The production of horror films continues to chug along in Korea even though their popularity seems to have ebbed back in 2003 when A Tale of Two Sisters was the last pure horror film to have cracked the Top 10 at the Korean box office. But nevertheless, not only are films in this genre still a constant presence, but these three offerings from 2006 all inject the old chestnut of a long haired female ghost into the proceedings – whether real or imagined is intentionally not always clear. By now this all too familiar spectral figure is often greeted by jaded audiences with a roll of their eyes and a snicker as if to say “oh no, not again”. One might then wonder why filmmakers continue to rely on such an over used convention rather than searching for something different to elicit frights and chills. Though there are long haired female ghosts in Korean folklore, the current popularity of this creepy figure can be traced to The Ring from Japan – so not only are Korean filmmakers accused of a lack of originality but also of being derivative of another country’s work – one by the way that ruled Korea for most of the first half of the 20th century. Still I think the directors use this convention to go elsewhere other than just horror. They sometimes have other interests in mind.

The proliferation of the revengeful female ghost figure in film is an interesting social phenomenon – is the subtext here that in Asian society women have little power in life and so have to wait until death to exert it? Perhaps – but what I find enjoyable about these types of Korean horror films – as opposed to ones that focus on psychosis such as H (2002), Tell Me Something (1999), Say Yes (2001) and To Sir with Love (2006) – is that the ghost is almost used as a contrivance to explore social ills or family dysfunction. Whether in films that focus on social outcasts - Momento Mori (1999), Voice (2005), Bunshinsaba (2004) – condemn war -R-Point (2004) - or unveil breakdowns in the family structure - Phone (2002), A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), Acacia (2003), Red Shoes (2005), The Wig (2005) and Cello (2005) - the ghost figure is used primarily to highlight these issues (and create a little carnage along the way of course).

Thus many of these films are more melodrama than horror – more about relationships among the living than with the dead - with the elements of horror often pushed to the background. I think this tends to frustrate horror aficionados who find these films much too tame and convoluted for their taste, but it is actually one of the reasons that I have very much enjoyed some of them – Phone, A Tale of Two Sisters, Red Shoes, Momento Mori and Voice. I often don’t find these films very scary, but often I find them moving and very sad. The back stories for these are usually fraught with pathos and are painful little tales of human transgressions and injustices that are ripe with tragedy and potential revenge. All three of these films fall into this category very neatly – melodrama with horror gnawing on the corners waiting to make an entrance.

A.P.T. (Apartment)2006


1 comment:

YTSL said...

Apropos of nothing (bar my interest in "similar but not the same" words from different languages, etc.): Funny how it is that "arang" means "coal" in Bahasa Malaysia -- and that "arahan" (the title of another Korean movie) means "direction" in the same language! ;S