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Imagination Connoisseur, Jason Webster, expands on his advice of classic asian horror by recommending two great films: A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (2003) and BUSHINSABA (2004) – among others.
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I hope yourself and the hip members of the Post Geek Singularity have cruised through a pleasant weekend.
I would like to take this opportunity to provide an accompaniment to my views on J-Horror by assessing the K-Horror genre.
I’ll start by providing focus on two films I love within the genre: A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) and Bushinsaba (2004) as I believe they encapsulate everything about the genre as a whole.
Released in 2003, A Tale of Two Sisters is a K-Horror film directed by Kim Jee-woon. It is a slow-burn psychological horror film. Textually, the film’s narrative addresses, not only mental illness, but also how the breakdown of the contemporary family unit can have disastrous consequences (loss, mourning) for all concerned until finally confronted and resolved.
There are many positives within film that I can point to why A Tale of Two Sisters is one of the greatest horror films of all time:
- In terms of texture, the film is gorgeous with rich, vivid cinematography by Lee Mo-gae,
- The film is evenly paced
- The film features an atmosphere-inducing score by Lee Byung-woo,
- Great performances
However, the standout performance was given by Im Soo-jung as Su-mi as she provides depth and realism to the character. Her measured performance utilised movement, expression and modulation of voice to convey Su-mi’s melancholic state.
Im Soo-jung rightfully received numerous awards for her performance including Best Actress at both the Blue Dragon Awards and the Korean Film Awards. Reviews were positive, Steve Biodrowski of Cinefantastique called the film,” clever enough in its deceptions to remain an interesting intellectual puzzle that feels as if it is worth sorting out.” Dana Stevens of the New York Times called the film the “first major South Korean example of a now well-established genre: the new Asian psychological horror film.”
With a strong, timely narrative, high production values and strong performances. A Tale of Two Sisters is foremost on numerous lists and discussions about the best K-Horror films ever produced and the greatest horror films ever made.
Released in 2004, Bushinsaba is a K-Horror film directed by Ahn Byeong-ki. The South Korean director is known for his acclaimed films Nightmare () and Phone (2002). The success of Bushinsaba would see Ahn direct the follow-on to this this film in the C-Horror Bushinsaba franchise and its spin-off franchise Bushinsaba vs Sadako.
The story focuses on Yu-jin (Lee Se-eun) who is tired of herself and her friends being subjected to bullying by some classmates. They consult a Ouija board to summon a demon to place a Bunshinsaba curse on the bullies. Soon Kang So Jung (Kang Jung Hwa) and her accomplices fall victim to the curse when they are killed by a vengeance seeking spirit named Kim In-Suk (Lee Yoo-ri). With the help of teachers Eun-ju Lee (Kim Gyoo-ri) and Mr. Han (Choi Seong-min), Yu-jin discovers the connection Kim In-suk’s death and the suppression of a secret concerning the town’s dark past.
The film does contain all common tropes, cliches and conventions of the genre. Something which has been problematic for a few films and sequels of a few franchises within K-Horror. There is a familiarity to Bushinsaba as we’ve seen the story covered in predecessors such as Whispering Corridors (1998). The main plot elements the film share include:
- High school setting where the inhabitants of the school are terrorised by an apparition of a former student.
- The retribution-seeking spirit is long-haired female spirit clad in white
- Naive, reserved young woman who become the heroine who recognises the danger and investigates but can’t help just about everyone else being killed.
However, Bushinsaba has a few positives that sets it slightly above the average or problematic films and franchises within the genre: the story does move at a brisk – yet even pace – and does not mire itself with lingering self-consciousness at any stage. There are genuinely scary moments such as Kim In-suk forcibly controlling Yu-jin’s bullies to commit suicide by setting their heads on fire.
Other positives in Bunshinsaba include:
- The film’s visual texture, which is rich with effective use of colour, light and shadow makes the film one of the most beautifully photographed K-Horror films ever thanks to director of photography Kim Dong-cheon (Cruel Winter Blues).
- Lee Yoo-ri’s statuesque beauty, range of facial expressions and gestures and sinuous movement allows her to give a chilling – yet sympathetic performance as Kim In-sook.
Bushinsaba, received mixed reviews from critics. Importantly, the film laid the groundwork for Ahn Byeong-ki to directed films within the C-Horror Bushinsaba franchise. Despite its positives, the narrative’s strict adherence to the generic conventions of K-Horror instead of bringing something fresh to the genre hampers the level of success the film could have achieved. Still, I like the film.
Apart from A Tale of Two Sisters, there are other examples of the best films within the K-Horror genre including:
- Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan (2016)
- Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing (2016)
- Park Chan-wook’s Thirst (2009)
- Park Ki-hyung’s Whispering Corridors (1998)
- Ahn Byeong-ki’s Phone (2002)
- Jang Cheol-soo’s Bedevilled (2010)
These films feature rich cinematography, smooth editing, high-quality production design and compelling performances. They are not only the best films within K-Horror genre but are the equal of their counterparts within Japan, Italy and Hollywood.
Like J-Horror, there are other films within the K-Horror genre that offer thrills, scares and solid entertainment including:
- Choi Ik-Hwan’s Voice (2005) aka Whispering Corridors 4: Voice
- Bong Man-dae’s Cinderella (2006)
- Lee Woo-cheol’s Cello (2005)
- Kim Yong-gyun’s The Red Shoes (2005)
- Kim Tae-kyung’s Don’t Click (2012)
- Kim Yong-gyun Killer Toon (2013)
- San Hoon-ahn’s Arang (2006)
These films lend themselves well to repeated viewings and will not disappoint fans of the genre.
When it comes to discussing my favourites of the K-Horror genre my choices as wide-ranging as those I love within J-Horror, or even horror genre itself. From scare-fests to atmospheric slow-burners. I love A Tale of Two Sisters, Train to Busan, Thirst, Bushinsaba, Arang, Don’t Click, Whispering Corridors 4: Voice and Death Bell (2008)
I would like to know what are your favourites of the J-Horror genre, Robert? This may also be a question that the lovely members of the Post Geek Singularity might like to answer in the chat.