[DVD Review] You Il-han's horror short given a lackluster adaptation
Kyu Hyun Kim (qhyunkim)
"4 Horror Tales" was the 2006 summer season's top-line experiment of producing four horror movies based on Yoo Il-han
's short stories on the cheap in high definition video. The tab was picked up by CJ Entertainment and TV station SBS. Yoo himself was involved as executive producer, teaming up with Korea's resident horror specialist Ahn Byeong-ki
, among others) and giving opportunities to four young directors to scare up the audience in theaters as well as on TV screens.
The first installment "February 29 - 4 Horror Tales
" might be of interest to the fans of "Dae Jang Geum
" ("Jewel in the Palace"), a mega-hit Korean TV drama, since two among its main cast members, Im Ho
(who played the Choseon monarch Joongjong) and Park Eun-hye
(Jang-geum's friend Yeon-saeng), star in the movie.
Park plays Ji-yeon, who we first see in a padded cell claiming to a skeptical journalist that a ghost of a female serial killer is responsible for a slew of killings on February 29, four years ago. In the main story, we find her working as a tollgate attendant. First she encounters a cryptic driver who keeps giving her blood-soaked tickets, and then someone who is dressed just like her begins to follow her around and infiltrate her nightmares, sporting a horribly burned face. She tries to persuade two detectives (Im Ho
and Lee Tae-woo) assigned to protect her that she will be the next victim of the (possibly spectral) murderess.
"February 29 - 4 Horror Tales
" first plays like a movie about the terror of a Doppelganger, of seeing one's double or future self, but soon you utter "Oh no", as it becomes glaringly obvious that writer-director Jeong Yong-hoon is determined to make a prosaic, unimaginative, scaled-down replica of "A Tale of Two Sisters
", Kim Jee-woon
's masterpiece. How do we know this? Because the movie baldly scores many of its completely dreary exposition scenes with the creeping-down-the-stairs background music from "Two Sisters"! Rule number one in making a low-end genre film: do not go out on the limb to remind viewers of a much superior example, to which your work will be inevitably compared! But even without that piece of music, the whole movie has nowhere to go but that by now the most hideously over-used "plot twist", and everything plays out with the thudding predictability of an obnoxious Christmas season car commercial.
In the beginning there is some hope that Jeong will stress quiet, creepy, "Repulsion"-like psychological horror over the loud, banging-on-the-kettles-and-pots shenanigans, but as endless plot expositions and footages of Ji-yeon wondering around the street dazedly with black rings around her eyes pile up, the viewers are positively assaulted with waves of boredom. This is one of those films in which a simple shot of a cop stunned by a sudden flash of light is repeated 11 times from different angles, but cannot maintain the basic level of suspense even when the heroine is in mortal danger. While not a jaw-dropping car-wreck (that honor must go to another film in this series), "February 29 - 4 Horror Tales
" is the kind of movie that literally fades away from our brains while we are watching it.
At one point the reporter is seen doodling a shark on his notepad, while listening to Ji-yeon's ravings: Many viewers will be sympathetic. (Just a note: the film at one point gives one of the most jumbled-up psychiatric diagnoses I have ever heard in movies, in any language. I guess the production could not afford to hire an academic adviser.)
CJ Entertainment. Region 3. Dual Layer. Video: 1.85:1, Anamorphic Widescreen. Audio: Korean language Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles: English, Korean. Supplements: Making-of documentary, Introduction to the four-film series, Interviews with actors. Trailers.
CJ Entertainment's special edition package contains all four films in the series -- "February 29 - 4 Horror Tales
", "Forbidden Floor - 4 Horror Tales
", "Roommates - 4 Horror Tales
" and "Dark Forest - 4 Horror Tales
" -- in a rather luridly illustrated but easy-to-handle package.
The first disc contains "February 29 - 4 Horror Tales
" and special features specifically related to it, as well as a short introduction to the series, consisting of interviews with You Il-han and Ahn Byeong-ki
. The making-of documentary is as generic as the movie itself and really does not hold your interest. Fans of "Dae Jang Geum
" might be more interested in the interview feature with the main cast and crew, in which Park Eun-hye
surprisingly talks about her love of the horror genre (her choice of the scariest film she's ever seen is "Ju-on"), and director Jeong predictably claims that "February 29 - 4 Horror Tales
" is more thriller than horror and confesses to not being attracted to the genre (Why keep giving horror projects to directors who are not interested in the genre?). Unfortunately, the supplements don't come with English subtitles.
The high definition video makes for a rather pleasant and clean presentation on a big TV screen, if a bit contrasty and glaring, as is the norm for Korean DVDs. The movie also suffers from the kind of visual problems associated with a Korean HD production, such as a zagging long-distance shot of a car getting into a garage. The five-channel audio sounds fine. English subtitles are better than average, although the subtleties in Korean dialogues -- such as a reference to commemoration rituals as a shorthand for someone's death -- are largely lost.