The opening scene of "The Chosen: Forbidden Cave" takes place at a psychiatric hospital. From there we cut to Jin-myeong (played by Kim Sung-kyun), who helpfully explains that supernatural forces can help people do tasks which are obviously impossible, like when old shamans are able to make improbably high standing jumps. Jin-myeong neglects to explain more directly relevant quandaries, such as why his assistant Ji-gwang (played by Kim Hye-sung) stands behind a plant every time Jin-myeong talks to a victim of demonic possession.
"The Chosen: Forbidden Cave" somehow manages the perplexing feat of not actually explaining any of its background even though practically all of the runtime is dedicated to story. It's just not important stuff or anything like that. Like Geum-joo (played by Yoo Sun), who's possessed by a demon but initially refuses to acknowledge it for...some reason. Or Hye-in (played by Cha Ye-ryun) who wants to make an exorcism documentary and is having trouble for...some reason.
I could go on and on like this for every single character. They each have a random generic trait that is constantly seen but never actually elaborated upon. Nearly all one of them could probably be cut from "The Chosen: Forbidden Cave" and nothing would be lost in terms of general narrative coherence. The backstory here is so dull and pointless that by the time demonic stuff actually started happening in the second half I had no hope anyone in the ensemble would be playing an important role. And they didn't.
The second half is especially frustrating though, because when the relevant backstory is finally explained there's all sorts of interesting material like the Jeju Uprising, the snake spirit, and the forbidden cave. But none of these are touched on in much detail. It's like the production team was in a real big hurry to do every single plot point that featured in the original Forbidden Cave novel, so they just plain failed to take into account that a film story has to be engaging to people who didn't read the book.
Incidently, "Forbidden Cave" is a really bad translation of the title. "The Anonymous Woman's Cave" or "The Shaman Woman's Cave" would be more accurate. Yes, those words are spelled the same way in Korean. It's actually fairly clever considering how both transliterations are accurate. But so far as I can tell, "The Chosen: Forbidden Cave" was designed in individual pieces intended to be literally understood. There's no sense of time, rhythm, or pacing, such that I very quickly became impatient for the movie to just end already.
Looking back over the individual plot elements of "The Chosen: Forbidden Cave" there's probably enough here for a decent novel, and I'm somewhat tempted to try and find a copy of the book sometime. I'm curious as to what possible context the psychologist who believes in ghosts, the guy who stands behind plants, and the woman who wants to make exorcist documentaries were originally supposed to be relevant. Unfortunately, with an adaptation this bad out in circulation, I doubt international publishers will be chomping at the bit for a translation.
Review by William Schwartz
Available on DVD from YESASIA
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "The Chosen: Forbidden Cave""
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