Saturday, October 02, 2010

Drowned Hopes

Longtime fans of the horror movie can probably be excused it they're getting tired of the long haired ghost girls and epistemological mindfucks of Asian horror. Enough is enough, right? Me? I don't mind it too much. I'm philosophical about genre. If you want to see something new every time you sit down to watch a horror movie, you're in the wrong place. Repetition of themes and symbols and imagery is how genres are formed, and the horror movie is no exception to this. The number of wholly original horror movies is so small that you can probably count them on one hand. I mean, I don't see many horror fans complaining about the number of vampire movies Hammer made in the 1960s, after all, and those were like cockroaches.

I'm more interested in what a given filmmaker does with the genre tropes he or she is handed. Genre is a crucible--or should be--where characters are tested by the elements of the genre. I think this is why the Asian model has endured as long as it has, longer than it has any right given the relatively narrow range of elements it has to work with: the filmmakers working in the genre are interested in putting the crucible to work.

All of which brings me around the The Ghost (2004, directed by Tae-kyeong Kim and AKA Dead Friend), in which an amnesiac deals with the strange water-related deaths of friends that she doesn't remember, all tied to a terrible shared event that robbed her of her memory. This takes its cues from The Ring, of course, and from Nakata's Dark Water and from the Whispering Corridors series (especially the second one). It even provides a gentle send-up of The Ring's opening scene, which promises a movie that's droller than this film actually is. That being said, it takes its most interesting elements from film noir, of all things. Buried under the ghostly shenanigans is the amnesia story, and like noir amnesiacs of yore, our heroine doesn't much like the person she used to be, once she starts to put the pieces back together. The film is an examination of memory and identity, suggesting that there's redemption in the waters of Lethe. It has other interesting elements too, focusing on the cruelty of youth and how it moderates as we move into adulthood. Unfortunately, it throws this aside by plunging into a climax that demolishes all the careful build-up. It's fun to watch even after it drives over the cliff, but it's disappointing. There's a good movie here being strangled by the formula. For that matter, it might work better if the horror movie elements were removed entirely. Of course, that's not the movie I watched. More's the pity.

I've mentioned this elsewhere many times, but regardless their actual content, Korean films are usually beautiful to look at, and this one is no different. It combines that Asian sense of dread hiding in the periphery with cold, clear cinematography that only occasionally dives into gonzo psychological effects. Ha-Neul Kim is good in the lead, a role that requires her to play two very different personalities. Even without understanding a word of Korean, I can see the change. She's good enough that I wish the filmmakers had provided her with a better denouement.

Current Challenge tally:

Total Viewings: 2

First Time Viewings: 2

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