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'Hansel and Gretel' Loses Focus

2007/12/27 | 378 views | Permalink | Source

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

Up and coming director Yim Pil-sung's latest work "Hansel and Gretel" is a sinister tale, which gets its inspiration from those classic children's stories with a dark twist. Here it is adults rather than children who become lost in the woods.

But the movie itself loses orientation and trails off course. There are no redeeming factors ― no breadcrumbs ― to this "brutal fairytale", which stops short of being an allegorical oxymoron.

Eun-su (Chun Jung-myung), while arguing over the phone with his girlfriend, has a car accident in the middle of nowhere. Deep in the heart of a forest, he finds sanctuary in a beautiful house, where a charming family of five greets him.

Here, rooms are filled with a myriad of colorful toys, and sumptuous three-tier cakes and other cavity-causing sweets are served for breakfast. But that's one thing to imagine and another to actually live through, especially when you cannot get away from it ― ever.

There is something decidedly uncanny about the "Happy Children's Home". Eun-su makes a few attempts to escape, but to no avail as the heavy snow and winding road always bring him back. To make matters worse, the parents disappear one day. While forced to look after the kids, he starts to notice strange things around the house. The eldest, Man-seok, has a dangerous temper unfit for a child, while his younger sister Yeong-hi sleepwalks and baby Jeong-sun repeatedly torments her dolls.

Meanwhile, an odd couple find themselves at the children's home, and Eun-su becomes torn, having to protect the children from the shady strangers while watching out for his own life and that of the adults.

"Hansel and Gretel" makes a decent start as a horror flick, filled with eerie shadows and haunting voices, dismantled porcelain dolls and gazing eyes peering out of bunny-print wallpapers (Ryoo Seong-hee, art director of "Old Boy" (2003), created the striking visuals).

But it suddenly makes a sharp crossover to heavy ― and disturbing ― drama. Two roads diverged in a wood, and the director tried to awkwardly straddle both. It's got to hurt.

"Hansel and Gretel" is basically about abused and abandoned children who, while taking revenge on adults who have wronged them, remain thirsty for love and attention. The victims are no longer weak and powerless but equipped with supernatural abilities.

Yet, a mystery greater than the magical plot elements is the film's rating. The senseless violence in the film makes you wonder whether it's appropriate for 12-year-olds.

"Children these days are prone to many dangers. Although the (violence) concerning the children may have been extreme, I wanted to portray (their) pain and circumstances", Yim said after the press preview. But how does one justify the disturbing means to an end, especially when it actually takes away from the flow of emotions?

It becomes difficult to digest the fine acting of the child actors who seem to have sold their soul to the film. While popular actor Chun Jung-myung makes a rather mediocre appearance, Park Hee-soon, who made a name for himself by starring opposite Kim Yoon-jin in "Seven Days", shows how good acting can shine through even in the foggiest works.

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