JUNE 2, 2012
All these big budget fairy tell retellings (such as Snow White And The Huntsman) should have taken their cues from Cinderella, the K-horror ghost film that tells a very different tale of a step-daughter that is locked away while her spoiled step-sister is given the perfect life. The similarities feel organic, almost as if they made the movie and then realized that they had subconsciously done a version of the classic tale, as opposed to Snow White, where they shoehorn in things like the Seven Dwarfs and then can't think of anything interesting for them to do.
Of course, those big budget movies couldn't get away with being as occasionally confusing as this is. While totally coherent overall (for a change!), the flashback scenes often come out of nowhere, and there are scenes that seem to be taking place just a few minutes before the previous one simply to delay a reveal for a few extra seconds. It can be quite jarring, and considering the nutty plot involving a facial transplant, it feels at times like they are literally going out of their way to puzzle the audience. It'd be like presenting Face/Off completely out of order and then asking the audience to figure out when Nic Cage was the real Castor Troy or when he was Sean Archer with Troy's face.
Otherwise, it's shockingly comprehensible. Closer to a tragic drama than a horror film, I was surprised to find it actually somewhat moving at times, very rare for an Asian horror flick (usually because I can't figure out what the hell is going on for long enough to get invested into anyone's personal drama). The plot involves a spoiled girl whose mother is a plastic surgeon, and after a few somewhat generic scare scenes (though the one with the ghost crawling under the hospital bed is quite good) and a friend seemingly kills herself by cutting off the part of her face that she just had surgery on, the back-story starts filling in, and the scares take a back-seat.
In fact, I couldn't help but wonder if the movie would have been better without a ghost at all. It wouldn't take much revising to be a slasher, and then they might not have had to have as many flashback scenes, as the killer could explain their actions in the present. Sure, the aforementioned ghost scare was good, and it's always funny to see where they pop up (inside a can of paint!), but the film's creepiest bit involves two girls who begin slashing each others' faces while saying "I'll make you pretty..." over and over - the ghost isn't even there (yes, they were under the ghost's influence, but Hannibal Lecter didn't need to be a ghost to talk people into doing crazy shit. Work with me here!).
But what's interesting is that the "heroine" of the movie is actually the worst person of the lot. The mother is crazed and goes to some disturbing extremes to give her biological daughter a full life, but ultimately everything she does can be chalked up to "trying to provide for her children", which is admirable even if the methods aren't exactly laudable. Ditto the ghost, who wanted nothing more than to be loved by her step-mother and have a real life instead of being confined in a cellar forever. The scene where she finally gives up - on the same day the step-mother finally was ready to show her some love no less - is heartbreaking (and the rare case of showing a later scene in the movie's prologue where it actually enhances instead of diminishing its impact). On the other hand, the main girl is a spoiled brat even as a child (before her accident that sets the plot in motion), and her friends (the source of the movie's small body count) are stuck up snobs as well.
Apparently plastic surgery is quite a problem in Korea, so kudos to director Bong Man-dae and screenwriter Son Kwang-soo for using it as a backdrop for a pretty effective little horror flick. It's amusing to think of how this movie could work if set in Beverly Hills, where it's probably just as big if not a bigger problem. I personally find all that sort of stuff disgusting; nothing makes me sadder than seeing a once beautiful actress suddenly have those bulged out lips or weird cheeks because she thought it would make her look younger. That the same sort of thing is done on teenagers is scarier than anything in a horror film. It's a shame we can no longer count on American horror filmmakers to actually SAY anything in wide release films (we get maybe one a year; this year's slot was probably taken by Cabin In The Woods), so it's always reassuring to see one from elsewhere.
What say you?