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'Spider Forest' weaves story of tormented soul

2004/07/20 | 357 views | Permalink | Source

Why does the spider have the ability to weave its web so beautifully? Among many answers, one that is pertinent for mystery thriller "Spider Forest" may be the story of the goddess Athena and the mortal woman Arachne.
Not that award-winning director Song Il-gon's latest film reiterates the famous myth about the spider's origin. Their common thread is the theme of human limitations and their fatal consequences.

"Spider Forest" is a movie dedicated to the mysterious power of the human memory. People cherish glorious or sweet memories. But the memory can also store dark, cruel and unimaginable incidents that torment a person for eternity.


Many people like to reminisce about happy moments in the past and forget the bad times. Irreversible mistakes and regrettable incidents can't be suppressed forever, though. Dark aspects of the past will not go away until one confronts them and untangles the complicated memories. In the film, Kang Min (Kam Woo-sung) is a TV documentary producer who has lost his wife in a plane crash. Since the excruciating loss, he leads a directionless life and shows no motivation in the workplace, inviting sneers from his colleagues, including his success-obsessed boss.

His life shifts direction when he meets Hwang Soo-young (Kang Gyung-hyun), a confident and attractive anchorwoman. Kang Min slowly opens his heart again and dreams of a new life, encouraged by the healing power of love.

But things spin out of control as he visits what is known as Spider Forest to cover a story about mysterious goings-on in that area. It turns out that there is a legend associated with the forest.

Min Soo-in (Suh Jung), who owns a photo studio there, explains what happened. A boy and a girl witnessed a terrible crime in the forest, and the girl got lost and died. Although the boy left the community, the girl's spirit stayed - or got trapped - in the dark forest, where several people claim to have seen her ghost.

The photo shop owner goes on to explain to Kang Min that Spider Forest is where spirits, totally forgotten by the world, turn into spiders and struggle in vain to break free. The spirits cannot leave the forest until somebody in the living world remembers them, thus liberating their tormented souls.

Kang Min remains confused. For starters, the photo shop woman looks exactly like his dead wife - Suh Jung is double cast in the two roles. And he often gets lost in the forest, and becomes ill after getting bitten by a small spider.

The film's message becomes clear as the troubled main character wanders alone in the forest, struggling to come to grips with the past and the present.

Explanatory notes about symbolism may be helpful. The spider represents, among other things, evil and subterfuge in the literary world. Indeed, the main character seems to be trapped in the cruel web of an evil-minded spider.

The same is true of the forest. For instance, in "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the forest is a test of strength, courage and endurance. It takes real fortitude to survive in the forest, and a person entering it does not emerge the same. Hawthorne was obsessed with the twin themes of sin and guilt, both of which are essential in "Spider Forest".

Though the film is quite complicated, actor Kam Woo-sung's performance is solid and impressive. His empty stare and bare shoulders set against the dreary background will likely leave an indelible image on the minds of the audience.

Suh Jung, who attracted the attention of critics with "The Isle", also showcases her versatile acting talent, here infusing cheerfulness with sadness. Notable is the moment when, as Kang Min's wife, she nudges him to grasp what is really happening.

"Spider Forest" sheds light on what Song is up to artistically. He is one of the leading cinema artists in Korea, cultivating his peculiar moviemaking style. He grabbed the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in the short film competition with "The Picnic" and made his directorial debut with "Flower Island", getting favorable reviews from critics.

For all the stylistic inventiveness and allusion-rich plot, however, "Spider Forest" lacks coherence as a mystery thriller. In addition, too much symbolism coupled with an array of heavy themes gives the impression of a jigsaw puzzle with some of the pieces missing. Even after the central mystery is revealed, the puzzle remains mixed up and incomplete.

Going back to Greek mythology, Athena wove her tapestry with images that foretold the fate of humans who compared themselves with deities. But Arachne went ahead with the competition, showing a self-confidence that drew punishment from Athena.

No doubt, Song has a talent for weaving a creative story, but he puts in too much complexity here, overly confident about his storytelling skills. Will the box office remember - and save - the tormented spirit trapped in "Spider Forest"?

By Yang Sung-jin

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