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Horror in Pusan...

October 4th, 2008 (10:55 pm)
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In which I lose the tickets... but everything works out in the end.

© 2008
D. Gordon

Normally I wouldn't put valuable items - like THE MOVIE TICKETS - in my pants pocket... but there I was, on the beach, taking pictures.

And then there I was, sitting in the PIFF Pavilion, typing and generally killing time until the first movie.

And then there I was at the theater – and couldn't find the tickets, even after careful disassembly of the purse. Twice.

The people at the Primus Cinema did an awesome job searching their computer to find the tickets, but through translation error (well, they never actually asked me to begin with), it turns out that I could get them reprinted only if I went to the location where I bought them, the Lotte Cinema (admittedly, a different theater chain; maybe that has something to do with it). Unfortunately, the Primus and Lotte are at opposite ends of the festival area, and the movie was starting in ten minutes – and I wasn't getting in without a ticket. So no movie #1.

So back on the shuttle bus I went over to Lotte, where it took them maybe five minutes to locate and reprint the tickets. I wanted to kiss their feet, but there was a counter between them and me.

Good thing this worked out, because by time I found out the tickets were missing, all the showings were sold out. And very good showings they were.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

So... movies - you want to know about movies.

So far, every movie I've seen here has been primo. The Q &As were a little off, the audience mainly asking for plot explanations (cheat cheat cheat!!!). Jang the Translator, whom I met between the two movies I did see, mentioned that the moderator was a little put off by it.

As for the movies themselves... Both a bit of the quirk, which I'm always up for.

Members of the Funeral
South Korea, 2008
Dir: Baek Seung-bin

There's a funeral going on.

It's for Hee-jun, a 17 year old boy who lived with his mute mother. His only friend was a girl who catalogs dead things, who's the daughter of the teacher critiquing the novel he was writing, who's married to the man who'd taken a special interest in him. The novel he was writing, Members of the Funeral, is about a boy who lives with his mute mother, whose only friend is a girl who catalogs dead things, whose mother is the teacher critiquing the novel he's writing, who's married to the man who's taken a special interest in him...

Got that?

I really haven't done justice with that description; Members of the Funeral is a well-done character study of mourners at a funeral and how they are much more linked than they know. It very deftly uses a third-person narrative and flashbacks, reinforced by the flow of Hee-jun's novel-in-progress, to get into the nature of relationships, the wounds that we all bear, and what's real and what's not. There are the scars on Hee-jun's arms which he never talks about. His one friend is as much of a high-school outcast as he is, but her early exposure to death made her much more accepting of it than most adults would be. Her mother was born into an overachieving yet suffocating family, and she sees something in Hee-jun - maybe a kindred spirit, maybe the person she never got to be - that she wants to explore. And her husband has known from an early age that he was gay, but in a still very conservative Confucian society there's no way to openly express that so he works out his frustrations on both his old lover and now the boy.

I don't want to give things away, but there's a wonderful twist at the end that sends the movie into a slightly different but very intriguing direction. It's also a cherry on top that makes the movie that much fuller.

Director Baek promises that the characters will show up in future movies. At least some of them. I guess...

VIY
South Korea, 2008
Dir: Park Jin Sung

VIY is a three-part adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's novel VIY with a twist: first, a modern-day take on the story, unspooling around a horror film production; second, a very effective stage performance of VIY, closer in setting to the original story; and third, a narrative combining elements of VIY and one of the tales in Kwaidan (don't want to spoil it for you, so won't say which one). The three segments are linked both thematically and, to a lesser extent, plotwise, while the main actors take different roles in the different segments.

As mentioned, the segments are related; the links are much closer between the first and second segments, and in fact parts of the first appear in the second. The third segment is perhaps a little weaker for it; the Kwaidan folktale and VIY do have things in common, but both are well known and distinct enough that differing elements conflict in a way that doesn't happen between the first two segments.

But all are very strong stories. The first is a very inventive combination of K-Horror and Russian literature, while the second takes itself completely out of the realm of "filmed stage play" and is all the more horrifying for it. The third is a little more practical, changing the Kwaidan story just enough to suggest a kind of practicality. And... they're all truly scary. The various elements blend to make the horror real by rooting the fantastic in the realism of the mundane, and questioning whether actions aren't just imagined. It's also a bit of the sacred and the profane; while the horror side demands – and gets – its scary demons and buckets o' blood, it's also very much a thinking movie, questioning what makes us scared and why. The music shifts, the lighting changes, and the characters become horrified because Something's Going to Happen – but maybe it's the way it's handled, the way the film puts the viewer in the shoes of the character on the screen to make it personal, that's so effective.

As the director character in the first segment so ably demonstrates to the reporter (by going after her with a fountain pen, fooling everyone in the room into thinking he was about to stab her in the eye), what is the nature of horror? Is it the threat? The unexpected? The unknown reasons why? That's really the heart of VIY and Park's exploration of the horror genre.

Whatever the answer, it's a well done movie.

Director Park mentioned a 1960s Soviet version of the film. Time to track that baby down.