APRIL 18, 2011
Well, shit. A girl is killed, her body left somewhere that is most definitely not a proper grave, and now her ghost wants revenge, which she’ll get using some sort of electronic device. Not for nothing, but I think the entire Asian populace has exhausted this particular scenario, and even though Arang is actually pretty enjoyable and thankfully shorter than many of its brethren, when I realized that this was ONCE AGAIN the backdrop for the movie, I think every part of my body sighed.
I mean, Christ, would it kill them to mix it up a bit? Hell, even making it a guy could be considered forward thinking at this point – apart from the little boy in Ju-On, why’s it always a female ghost in these things (at least, the ones I’ve seen). It doesn’t help that a big chunk of the actual backstory is lifted from Shutter – it’s a complicated mystery, but it’s all made of parts from other movies. The last twenty minutes or so of the movie present a lot of flashbacks explaining why people were doing the things they were doing, and with one exception (involving the identity of the ghost’s human “assistant”), I felt like I was just watching outtakes from other movies I had already seen.
And it’s a shame, because at the core of the movie is a surprisingly engaging relationship between our heroine and her new partner, a younger cop who originally wanted to be a photographer. As she longs to be a novelist, the two bond in a platonic but still sort of deep manner for these sort of things, where I’ll often go the entire movie feeling like I didn’t really learn anything about the hero beyond what was required for the plot (i.e. that they are a cop). Just the fact that the hero was a female detective for once (and one that didn’t have to constantly prove herself to her male coworkers – it’s not a “girl power” approach, she just happens to be female) made it more interesting right off the bat, but that they actually took the time to make her and the partner well-rounded and likeable was a pleasant surprise.
The only drawback is that it makes it kind of awkward when the focus shifts to the intended victims of the ghost. As with Shutter, the ghost is killing the jerks responsible for her death one by one, but we don’t really spend any time with them prior to their deaths. It’s fine at first, because we need a death to kick off the movie, but around an hour in we are suddenly spending a lot of time with not only one of the bad guys, but also his girlfriend; it’s a bit jarring, to say the least. It’d be like if halfway through Se7en we got 15 minutes with “Lust” before John Doe took her out, instead of spending that time with Pitt and Freeman.
Also the scares aren’t very creative, largely falling on the usual long-haired ghost spectre popping out in odd places. There’s a nifty one in a car where the ghost sort of gradually appears as the camera spins around the driver, but it’s more of a “oh, cool!” shot than a scary one. And she plays no real role at all in the climax, which involves all the still living parties standing around waving guns at one another, while her body is gradually uncovered thanks to a leak in the roof pouring onto the salt that acted as the “dirt” on her makeshift grave. I’d also like to point out that I would probably be able to escape being “drowned” by salt, due to the fact that I am a salt addict (when I make macaroni and eat it on the couch or in my office, I bring the salt shaker along with me so I can “top off” 2-3 times). Mmm, salt.
One thing they do right is the subtitles. The last Asian horror flick I watched had some of the most confusing subs ever, with two characters’ lines sharing a single horizontal line of text on the bottom on several occasions, and poor timing making it difficult to discern who was saying what. But they were very well done here; paused out correctly, italicized when being said by an off-screen character, etc. It’s a shame I should have to think to praise someone for doing this right, but there are so many companies doing such a terrible job with them (they also frequently forget the difference between subtitles and close captioning, so you end up with things like “Door slamming” burned into the image). However the image itself wasn’t as impressive, at least on Netflix Instant – it seemed like they couldn’t quite figure out the aspect ratio whether you were watching on the website or on your TV via Xbox or whatever. On the site it looked stretched horizontally, and at home the scaling looked more or less correct but it was cropping out a bit of the top and bottom of the image, leaving the bottoms of Ys and Ps cut out from the subtitles. So if you plan to watch it, try to find the DVD, because, as is often the case, Netflix Instant proves to be a less than optimal way to watch the movie.
I just re-read the review and realized it’s mostly negative-sounding, but I honestly did enjoy watching the movie. I do have to try to keep in mind that not everyone is watching so many of these things. If you haven’t been exposed to too many Asian ghost/revenge movies, I’d see this one sooner rather than later, so you can enjoy what it does bring to the table without having too many issues with the rather overused elements.
What say you?