MARCH 1, 2011
Even by Korean horror standards, Yoga (Korean: Yoga Hakwon) is pretty baffling; I feel like I spent the entire third act making a “what the hell?” face. But at least I’m not alone; assuming I had missed a plot point or overlooked a key bit of information, I went online to seek some answers, only to discover no one seemed to really get the final scene of the film. Luckily, it wasn’t enough to wreck what was otherwise a pretty solid K-horror entry, and further strengthened my opinion that the Korean horror output is much more interesting than the more popular (over here anyway) Japanese entries.
Like Beyond Dream’s Door, Yoga is a movie that does a better job at depicting dream logic than most of the Nightmare On Elm Street films, which is even more impressive when you consider that there aren’t any traditional dream scenes, but rather waking hallucinations (if I am understanding THAT much anyway). But they function more or less the same way, with a character sort of being confronted by their weakness in a scene that starts more or less realistically and gradually becomes more surreal. And the movie works in a hook as the backdrop for each of these sequences – our five protagonists are the students of a very exclusive and peculiar yoga training program, where the instructor forbids them to shower within an hour of their training, eat any food past breakfast, look at themselves in the mirror, etc. So basically each girl breaks a different rule, with typically horrifying results. But unlike the lesser Nightmare sequels, it doesn’t seem like these scenes were designed first with the plot connecting them tossed in later – they grow organically out of the story.
It also appealed to my “fear” of yoga. Back in 2004, my girlfriend convinced me to join her for “couples yoga”, which, as you might expect, wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. I was (WAS, Collins? Like you’re some fucking fitness guru now?) too out of shape to do much anyway (plus our height difference didn’t help – we made one lopsided “yoga tree”, that’s for sure), but some of their maneuvers legitimately frightened me – I was convinced someone was going to break their neck or back or something. So in the movie, when a girl twisted her legs around in a 360 degree turn, or another began moving like a snake, I was genuinely unnerved, because it wasn’t too far from what I expect to happen in yoga studios NOT run by immortal witches.
Oh yeah, I got a Suspiria vibe at times, particularly in the 3rd act when coherency sort of goes by the wayside. It’s not as gory or colorful as Argento’s film, but the influence is still apparent, and it was a nice surprise. I always expect these movies to boil down to “she’s an angry ghost”, but there was more to it than that. Some of it involved a film director who recently died, and his story is being investigated by the boyfriend of our main character. These scenes never quite gelled with the rest of the movie, and it felt like the storyline never quite reached a climax or even a turning point, but for an hour or so, they were a nice diversion.
I just wish M-line (the DVD distributor) hadn’t given the film such a shitty presentation. It looked quite nice, but it was a non-anamorphic transfer of a 2.35:1 movie. Normally I would just zoom in and be done with it, but they laid their subtitles out in a way that kept me from doing so, as it would cut out the bottom part of every line. So I had to watch the movie “windowboxed”, with the actual image taking up like half of my screen, and the girls were pretty chatty so the lack of a dubbed track was also unfortunate – I feel like I was rarely able to just enjoy the images, particularly in the 1st act. They also neglected to provide subtitles for what seemed like a pretty important message written on a mirror near the end of the film; our heroine is pretty disturbed by it but we have no idea what it says!
It’s a shame that the Asian-horror remake craze has died down, because this one could actually work in a US setting. The film’s basic concept about what young women will do to retain their youthful beauty is fairly universal, and there would be some perverse irony to casting five girls from the CW breeding grounds to play these women, since their own careers will be over by the year 2020 or so. And I’d love to see what director Jae-yeon Yun could do with Hollywood resources (provided he was left alone) and a more accessible script. His only other film is Whispering Corridors 3, which I will hopefully enjoy once I see/enjoy the first two entries (anyone see them? Good? Worth hunting down?).
In short – best horror movie about yoga ever.
What say you?