Seong-min KangEun-hye ParkJae-hwan AhnJi-won Uhm
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Writer: Chang-hak Han
Director: Gi-hun Kim, Jong-seok Kim
Keywords: horror, slasher
Language: Korean
Country: South Korea
Actor: Seong-min Kang, Eun-hye Park, Jae-hwan Ahn, Min Jung, Dal Bae, Jun-Hyeong Bae, Chae-young Han, Mayu Loh, Yu-Rim Choi, Tae-Yun Jang, Seo-hyeong Kim, Yeong-ho Lee, Ji-won Uhm
Format: 94 minutes
Website category: Asian
Review date: 11 May 2012
The one-line summary is... no, wait. You don't even want to know the one-line summary. Just go and watch it, knowing nothing about the story that's coming. It's a gleefully nasty little Korean film that I thought was both genre-expanding and a lot of fun.
Got that? Right, off you go.
WARNING: spoilers follow, by which I mean "anything at all". I won't give away the ending or anything so crass, but personally I think I enjoyed this film more for knowing nothing about it in advance. It's like [REC] that way. I watched it at random, which is a habit I recommend although you've got to be ready to take the bad with the good.
Okay, that'll do. The one-line summary is that it's like a Korean version of I Know What You Did Last Summer, except that it's so much more than that. In its very Korean way, I thought it was superb.
Firstly, for the first half-hour, I had no idea where the hell this was going. I pity the horror nerds who watched this from the beginning through their slasher movie goggles. We see a bunch of teenagers bullying their teacher and their classmates, filmed in a style that's not cinema verite but isn't regular movie narrative either. Imagine a fly-on-the-wall documentary of a school that's probably fairly common in real life but still isn't somewhere you'd want to send your children. There's sexual tension, but never in a pleasant way. It's used to provoke. Schoolgirls and nurses deliberately make it hard for males not to look up their skirts. There's a nerd of a teacher (Jae-hwan Ahn) who doesn't have a girlfriend and gets no respect from his classroom.
This is vaguely unpleasant, but deliberately so. What it's not is formulaic.
Now, one of the boys in the class has allergies and wears a face mask. Everyone hates him and he knows it. However one day, he gets invited out by the insanely hot Chae-young Han and her attractive friend Eun-hye Park to have some fun.
I'll avoid further spoilers, but suffice to say that I lost count of the number of "swear at the screen" moments where things get a hundred times worse than I'd already been imagining. Was it four or five? Depends on your reaction to a certain incident, I suppose. After the first one, these are so outrageous that they made me laugh (in a good way). Eventually the film escalates into slasher territory.
What makes this good is its Korean-ness. There's a formula to Western slasher movies, which this film tears to bloody shreds. This isn't a tale of innocent victims being hunted by a maniac. No, on the contrary you're quite likely to be cheering for the slasher, whose homicidal actions would have seemed perfectly reasonable if he'd been a little less scattershot in his choice of victims. Our "heroes" would, in any other film, be the villains. Hell, they're the villains here too. Eun-hye Park is the nice one with a brain, but even she's often hard to like when interacting with other people (lying, taunting them down the phone, etc.) Seeing these people getting hunted down and murdered one by one is both entertaining and satisfying.
It's also far from clear how the film will turn out. Will there be a last survivor, as one expects in Hollywood slashers, or will there be a 100% mortality rate? Will everyone get killed by the slasher? (This would be what's called the "happy ending".) Personally I'd have been assuming that if the slasher hadn't also been slaughtering any innocent people who happened to be passing, perhaps to keep his hand in or maybe because he'd been feeling grumpy that day. The "hold on to the knife" kill is particularly imaginative, not to mention gross. That was a good bit. Then there's the whodunnit element.
The result is a film that makes ordinary slashers feel one-dimensional. The victims are as nasty as the killer! Anything might happen at any point. The genre's trappings aren't trappings at all, but the logical and horrific outcome of what these bastards did and are still doing.
The acting is mostly okay, but Chae-young Han isn't great. Surprisingly she's neither a model nor a pop singer, instead having studied performing arts at Dongguk University, but I think this was her first movie and she's a bit lacking when the scene calls for strong reactions. However on the upside, whenever anyone gets undressed in this movie, it's her. You don't see anything, though. She's apparently known as the "Barbie Doll" of Korea, although this strikes me as slightly creepy. Eun-hye Park is a much stronger actress, while none of the boys particularly stand out for good or ill. They're fine. I liked them, albeit in the counter-intuitive way of wanting to see them dead.
Judged by genre standards, it ends up conforming even as it subverts. It's a shame to see bad acting from Han and some day-for-night filming. However the finale is excellent, imaginative and has one laugh-out-loud kill I'd never seen before.
In summary, wow. Anyone complaining that the teenagers are unlikable has missed the point, although my past history with Korean cinema suggests the scary possibility that the filmmakers hadn't meant their protagonists to seem that extreme and instead thought they were making a normal film. Horror nerds have been unimpressed, but personally I thought this was outstanding. However presumably you agree with me, having stopped reading at the top of the review and only returned to read the rest after you'd gone away and watched the movie.