JUNE 15, 2012
What's this? A Korean horror movie that can be described as "simple"? It's true, The Curse Of February 29th (Korean: 2 wol 29 il) is remarkably straight forward and never confusing in the slightest. The ending is ambiguous, which can FEEL a bit puzzling as they "explain" it, but once you realize that they are simply offering up another explanation, it all works.
Of course, the flipside of that is that it's a bit of a lackluster experience. Without a complicated story or even a lot of characters to keep track of (there are only like 5 of note in the entire movie), it does drag a bit at times. If there was a Korean Masters Of Horror type show, this would be one of the best episodes, but there really isn't enough there for a full 90 minute feature. I mean, most of it takes place at a lonely tollbooth, so there isn't a lot of room for potential victims, lengthy chase scenes, etc. There's a short montage showing our heroine dealing with her daily routine, but that's pretty much it for customers - the road might as well be closed at night, it seems.
Hell even the plot is basically designed to keep "things happening" at bay. Our ghost (OR IS IT?) is that of a female serial killer that died in a prison bus crash that happened on February 29th twelve years earlier. Now, every four years on that date, someone "dies for no reason" (the movie's explanation, as if people didn't die for no reason every day of the year), and this year our heroine thinks it's coming after her. That's pretty much it; they don't even really flesh out the story of the female serial killer or what happened on the other leap years.
Instead, the story is expanded (slightly) with present day scenes of a reporter listening to her story from her current residence: a cell in an institute. At first he doesn't find it very interesting (there's a great sight gag of him doodling a shark as he "listens") but gets more involved as the story continues, and it just so happens that today is February 29th (her story being four years old), so now he's worried it'll come after him. It's a nice way to break up the monotony of the tollbooth scenes, and I enjoyed the reporter's chemistry with the doctor who snuck him in to listen, but like the main part of the story, it feels a bit underwritten.
However, it's an enjoyable enough time-killer, and well directed by first (and last?) time director Jong-hun Jung. The scare scenes are well handed (and aided by some surprise splatter - there's a great throat slashing), and he even manages to avoid the usual crippling flaw of flashback stories in horror: I found myself getting worried for the girl even though I knew she'd survive. At some point she realizes that the ghost needs things to be dark to appear, so she buys a bunch of lamps and runs around turning them all on to prevent even the slightest bit of darkness in her apartment - it's a fun, exciting little sequence.
I also liked the two cops who are investigating her/the killings. Like the guys in the hospital, they have some fun back and forth, and I always like how Asian people are pretty blase about ghosts. Someone says ghost in an American movie, and they are mocked and not believed; but here the cop is just like "OK, maybe we'll see the ghost". They're just commonplace there, or their residents are simply more awesome than us - either way it's a great way to keep things moving. In an American film, they always have to waste a few seconds of screentime with some asshole saying "There's no such thing as ghosts!" and offering up other theories that we the viewer probably already know are not true, so it's nice that they can skip past that sort of crap and just get on with it.
Also, the limited cast allows for something I don't usually see in these things: it's kind of sad. Our heroine's best friend is this year's February 29th victim, and there's a scene shortly later where she finds the birthday card she bought for the girl and now obviously won't get a chance to give her. Bummer. And the thing as a whole is pretty grim, because whether she killed everyone or not she's locked up in an institution and being treated like a freakshow by one of the doctors in her care.
So basically it's a nice gateway Korean horror film for "region 1" fans, in that it has a lot of American sensibilities, but still focuses on the principles of the K-horror I've seen (ghosts, curses, etc). Those who have already seen a bunch will likely find it a bit too slight for their tastes, but it's a solid way to introduce a younger fan to the style before they dive into the real meaty entries.
What say you?