FEBRUARY 5, 2011
When I tweeted that I was watching Face (Korean: Peiseu), I joked that I hoped that the main character was “a ghost or something”, because despite confirmation of it being a horror film, it didn’t really SOUND like one – the plot synopsis just said it was about a retired skull reconstruction expert being asked to do his thing. I figured there was a serial killer of some sorts figuring into things, but otherwise it sounded like a subplot of a CSI episode. But it was also a Korean horror film, so I figured a ghost would figure into it somehow.
And sure enough, it’s not long before long black haired girls in white clothing are popping up every 10 minutes or so in order to scare us (well, not me). I’d actually argue that they were a detriment to the film, however, as it led me to believe that this was another generic Asian ghost film, which it turned out not to be. If I had to guess, I’d say that these things were introduced just to keep the interest of folks who can’t get enough of those movies (or of a producer hoping to market it as one). I am about to dip into spoiler territory here, so stop reading if you don’t want the 3rd act revelations spoiled for you.
So ultimately I was quite delighted to find that not only was the movie pretty dang good, but also my joke was actually sort of true! Sort of like The Bone Collector, our main guy is aided by a younger, would-be genius skull reconstruction expert, and SHE turns out to be a ghost. There’s a lot more to it than that, which I won’t spoil, but it’s a really cool twist and the rare example of this sort of thing not only being a total surprise to me, but also giving the film a surprise element of sadness. The final scene is a bit too melodramatic for my tastes, but it’s so rare for these Asian horror films to be more concerned with the drama and character development than spooky jump scares, I easily forgave it.
It also makes up for the film’s sort of main problem, which is that the killer turns out to be someone we only saw once (another Bone Collector connection). The only reason I hadn’t forgotten about the character completely by the time we saw him again is because his first scene stuck out like a sore thumb. Tell me, which of these things don’t really belong: skull reconstruction, serial killers, organ donors, scuba diving clubs, police investigators. Take your time.
But when you factor in the twist, you realize that it would be impossible to include the character more often without giving it away (unless they cheated, which would be worse). Thus, I no longer minded the issue – I’ll take that “problem” over yet another vengeful ghost tale like Shutter/One Missed Call/etc, or a twist that simply makes no sense, OR a movie that you can tell how it ends after the first reel. Indeed, one of the things I was most impressed by was the way that a very important clue to solving the mystery was revealed early on, when they are first starting to reconstruct the skull. The girl says something and the guy points out how she could easily be mistaken, and we take it as a “oh she’s smart, but he’s SMARTER” type moment, but it’s actually more or less telling you the answer. Very cool, and again it’s the type of thing that elevates this movie above its more typical peers.
It’s also got at least one cool visual effect concerning its ghost. It’s hard to explain in words, but basically it “grows” almost out of nothing while using mirror effects. Since pretty much all of the others were the standard “oh look there’s a little ghost girl there all of a sudden/now she’s gone!” type moments, I’m glad there was one full blown horror moment that was a little more creative. It’s the killer/organ/skull storyline that makes the movie compelling, so it’s not such a big problem (for me) that the scares were so generic, but having this one “outside the box” element was an excellent bonus of sorts.
I just hope if you do check out the film that you avoid Netflix’s transfer as well as whatever source they used. I don’t THINK it was Netflix’s fault, but I was constantly being distracted by a compression error that made folks’ eyes shift around on their owner’s heads, backgrounds freezing in space for a millisecond when the camera began to move, etc. It’s a problem I’ve seen on a lot of budget DVDs for old movies (usually when transferred from VHS), but rarely have I seen it on a newer film and NEVER this bad. Hilariously, the issue actually HELPED a particular nightmare scene, as everything around him was supposed to be moving in strange ways and thus the compression error just intensified the effect. Also according to the IMDb, there’s a version that runs about 8 minutes longer, which I’d be more than happy to check out sometime. I’d also like to check out more from the (FOUR!) writers, but sadly three of them haven’t done anything since (including Sang-Gon Yoo, who also directed), and the other has only done one other film, an action comedy. As the film is nearly seven years old, I find this a bit disheartening; hopefully Yoo can mount another film soon (with or without the rest of the creators).
What say you?