Seen in Jeonju

Archive for January, 2010

Director Min Byeong-cheon

9th January 2010

min byeong-cheonOriginally posted August 22, 2007–Born in Seoul in 1969, Min Byeong-cheon enrolled at Hongik Univerisity where he majored in Visual Design.  Although he graduated in 1995, Min had established himself as a director while he was still in school.  In 1992 he directed an award-winning documentary for SBS TV called 2 Meters To Go, featuring the struggles of the handicapped. It was said that the quality of that production was so good that Min was guaranteed a job anywhere he wanted to work upon graduation.

In 1995, Min Byeong-cheon directed a short film called Mongolian Food and the following year directed his first music video called 21st Century Mona Lisa for singer 015B. In 1998, Min was placed in charge of a new SBS drama called Baekya 3.98 starring a cast of actors that reads like a Who’s Who: Choi Min-soo, Lee Byeong-heon, Shin Eun-ha, Lee Jeong-jae, Song Hye-gyo, Shin Hyeon-joon…

In 1999, Min debuted with his first film, Phantom; A Submarine.  He claims he was influenced by the film Crimson Tide but he skillfully crafted a story that would appeal to his target viewers and it was well-accepted by both audiences and critics. The film was credited for upgrading special effects techniques in Korean movies and not only won a prize for best special effects but also netted Min an award for Best New Director.  Min followed up this film with the special effect extravaganza, Natural City (2003) in which nearly all the backgrounds are computer graphics.  Although well done and critically successful, the film was too slow for the average movie-goer and it failed to draw audiences to the theater.

The film did however help develop Min’s ability and reputation as a director of special effects. In the following years, he created many CGI animated sequences and characters for tv dramas, such as Goong, video games and music videos.  Recently, he established Olive Studios for the creation of animation and his work was  screened at the 2007 SICAF (Seoul International Cartoon and Animation Festival):  His latest works can also be seen on the television channel Tooniverse.

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Director Lee Yeong-shil

9th January 2010

lee yeong-shilOriginally posted October 10, 2007–Lee Yeong-shil was born on June 20, 1942 in North Pyeongan Province which is now part of North Korea.  Both he and his brother were very interested in movies when they were children and Lee was determined to become a movie director from a very young age.  He kept his goal in mind while he was attending Yeonse University in Seoul where he majored in Psychology.

Sometime after he graduated, his brother  Lee Yeong-il, was given a job as a film critic for the popular magazine called Movie Arts.  Yeong-il had many opportunities to meet with film-makers and became friendly with the famous director Yoo Hyeon-mok.  Using that connection, Yeong-shil was able to secure the position of assistant director on Lee Hyeon-mok’s next project, Son of Man which was released in 1981.  This gave Lee the foot in the door that he needed to begin his own film career.

Lee Yeong-shil debuted as a director in 1982 with the film Rebellion.  It was the story of a simple fisherman who meets and marries an ambitious woman who sees her new husband as her possession–to be enslaved and bound to her as she leads him into the world of crime and dark passions.  Rebellion proved to be popular and was sent to screen at the 27th Asian Pacific Film Festival and the 2nd Manila Film Festival.

After this, Lee continued to make melodramas however none of them gained a great deal of attention from audiences of the time. His filmography includes The Miss and the Cadet (1984), Riding the Moonlight (1985), Tomorrow Rain (1991), The Scent of Acacias in Your Arms (1993) and The President’s Daughter (1994).  Among these, Tomorrow Rain gained the most critical success and earned supporting cast member Ji Kyeong-won a prize for the best new actress even though the film failed in the theaters.

In addition to these films, Lee Yeong-shil made several documentaries, some for the military as part of the ‘Blue Dragon’ unit, and about ten television commercials.  These days he works as a lecturer at Busan Arts College and Myongji University in Seoul.

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Director Kim Eung-soo

9th January 2010

kim eung-sooOriginally posted August 27, 2007–Kim Eung-soo was born on January 1, 1966 in Chungju, North Chungcheong Province. He entered Seoul National University and majored in Psychology.  While a student he was so active in student government that he gave little thought to his future. He once claimed that upon graduating, he suddenly had to find something to do.  He chose movies.

So in 1990 he re-entered school, this time at Seoul Art College.  By 1991, he was already working with a production company and he wrote the scenario for Mother, I’m Your Son (1991) directed by Lee Sang-in.  Later in 1991, Kim went to Russia to study at the Moscow National Film School and he wound up staying for 5 years.  During that time, he made several short films such as A Different Face (1994). His first feature length film came in 1996 when he wrote, produced and directed Time Lasts. It was the story of a group of Koreans in their mid-thirties who, when they were students, were members of a radically leftist organization.  During that time, one of the members betrayed the others to the authorities and as a result, one of their friends died. Now they are meeting in Moscow unaware of the traitor’s actions. The film won a prize for best actress from the Korean Film Critics Awards that year.

In 1999, he prepared a film tentatively called I Am a Parisian Taxi Driver but it never got off the ground.  Finally in 2002, he directed his second film, this time for Myeonpil Films called Desire.  Although completed on time, it took this movie two years to get released in Korea.  Sometime after completing that project, he took a post at Gyeongseong University as a professor in the Department of Film and Performing Arts. 

Teaching has not stopped him from making more films. In 1995, he once again wrote, directed and produced a film–Way To Go Rose and in May of 2007 his film Heavenly Path was released, once again produced by Kim Eung-soo Productions.

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Neumi (1979)

9th January 2010

neumiDirector Kim Ki-yeong is rightfully remembered for his innovative film making throughout the 1960s and 70s.  His most famous movie, The Housemaid (1960), remains on lists as one of the greatest Korean films of all times.  But that was not his only film. His movies Woman of Fire (1971) and Insect Woman (1972) were very well received even at a time when censorship was at its strongest.  Neumi (1979) is another film that deserves wider recognition.

Neumi is a melodrama which revolves around the relationship between Yoon Joon-tae and a young mute woman for whom the movie is named. Joon-tae is college educated and a young man of priviledge. He takes a small room near a brick factory although ‘factory’ may be the wrong word.  There is a small dilapidated plant where clay is pressed into thick square rods and chopped by hand into brick-sized chunks. These are then carried out by numerous workers to dry in large stacks in a muddy, grey field. Rows upon rows of these bricks create a depressing environment and that depression is mirrored on the faces of the workers laboring there.

Living in a shabby hut with old foreman Shin and an infant daughter is the beautiful Neumi played by Jang Mi-hee.  She works right alongside the men (as do many other women) carrying cartloads of bricks to the fields and loading up trucks to supply the developing nation with building material.  Neumi is oddly expressionless but dutifully serves Shin with her whole heart.  She shaves him, washes his feet and cuts his food into bite sized pieces even though he makes it quite clear that he believes her to be a second-class citizen.  For his part, Shin is very possessive of her and when she takes gum from a truck driver the foreman wastes no time in slapping her across the face.

That was probably a mistake for in the very next scene, the truck driver backs his vehicle up onto Shin, crushing him between the truck and a building and burying him under a ton of bricks.  The driver makes no effort to hide his actions and happily tells Neumi that he has freed her–only to have her fly into a grief-filled rage and beat him, screaming like a wounded animal the entire time.

Joon-tae, fascinated with Neumi, begins to look in on her and take care of her. At first he makes her food and then he buys her new clothes. Followed by furniture, a tv and other luxuries that seem quite out of place in her dingy hovel.  The ridiculousness of his gifts is highlighted when Neumi goes out to lug bricks around in a brilliantly colored red dress and long necklace.  Joon-tae does not notice–in fact, Joon-tae is oblivious to pretty much everything and treats everything he does like its a game. When he first tours the factory and helps the workers load the bricks in trucks or takes them to the fields, it feels as if he is playing. His treatment of Neumi is the same–it looks as if he is playing with a Barbie-doll–putting on her makeup, dressing her up and buying her gifts she couldn’t possibly use.

The other workers notice though. When Neumi was one of them, she was accepted. Now she appears to be the mistress of a rich young man (despite the fact that they held a pretend wedding), the other workers watch her with baleful glares. Of course, Joon-tae doesn’t notice their looks and, meeting a mob of workers outside Neumi’s house after spending the night with her, Joon-tae greets them all exuberantly because he thinks they are there to congratulate him on his ‘wedding’.  But as soon as Joon-tae rounds the corner to go to work, the workers turn on Neumi and literally tear down her house with their bare hands. Neumi has nowhere to go but to move in with Joon-tae. But this causes problems in itself as the people moving in Joon-tae’s circle are not ready to accept a mute woman from such a vastly different social class.

That is the main theme to this film–the difference in social class and failed attempts to rise above one’s station.  And while no direct criticism of the unrestrained development or the plight of the workers would have passed censors of the time, the director manages to make his feelings on the matter quite clear through his depiction of life among the labors and the actions of under-priviledged people shown throughout the film’s 90 minute running time. The filmography is beautiful (even if my video’s quality is not the best) but dismal at the same time gray and reds fill the screen  and the music for this film is quite unique. Frequently the score seems to be two drumsticks being hit together with the speed and intensity of their beat matching the scenes’ contents.  There is so much that happens in this film that I have not mentioned–a horrifying suicide/double murder attempt, a spiteful secretary spurned by Joon-tae who, as usual does not even know her feelings towards him, and the return of the truck driver obsessed with Neumi.   However, it is the ending of this movie that stays with me whenever I watch it.  The finale is quite shocking and unexpected but unfortunately, I cannot reveal it here.  It is something that you should see for yourself if this is ever released onto dvd.  This movie is definitely at the top of the list of my favorite films from the 1970s.

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Paradise Murdered (2007)

9th January 2010

Originally posted September 3, 2007–There have been a number of paradise murderedprominent releases so far in 2007–Secret Sunshine made news when Jeon Do-yeon took home the prize of Best Actress from Cannes. Both D-War and May 18 have been making news for their box office tallies and even Black House peaked interests due to its source material.  But there have been dozens of new releases that slip under the radar but some of them deserve wider recognition.  Paradise Murdered is one of those.

The premise of the film is fascinating.  All seventeen people inhabiting the small island of Geukrak have been killed or have disappeared. All the clues that the police have are trails of blood and an oddly cryptic note.  What happened to the isle’s inhabitants is then told in flashback.

The story starts to unfold as we observe the cast of characters and their interactions.  Although it may seem like a large number of people to start a mystery with, the characters are quite distinct and it is never confusing. In fact, the cast deserves the highest praise for making their interactions completely believable.  It truly does feel like the majority of these people have spent their entire lives on this island. 

The cast soon starts to be whittled down through grisly murders and mysterious disappearances. After the first killing, a double murder, the cast grows understandably nervous and suspicious as they realize that the killer must still be on the island and may even be one of them.  Initially, they believe they know the identity of the killer and even his motive for his crime and their main concern is locating him.  However, when that initial theory is destroyed so is their peace of mind and satisfaction with their community. Suspicions and tempers flare and the residents of the small village start thinking of reasons why the other members would have murdered so cruelly.

As these suspicious thoughts prey on people’s mind, their reasoning seems to suffer. They all recall a local legend in which a woman, one of their ancestors, was starved to death to ensure her chastity.  Now, some members  of the village believe it is the curse of the Chaste Woman that is causing their problems and a few even start seeing a ghost like vision hovering around the areas of where murders take place. Clearly there is  no such thing as ghosts, so who or what is this terrifying image?

I have to say that I enjoyed watching Paradise Murdered and trying to figure out who is responsible for the deaths and how he or she could have pulled it off.  However, here is the major problem with the movie.  It does not play fair with all its clues.  In fact, the ending seems so far-fetched that it is impossible to guess.  Therefore, I recommend that if you watch this film, NOT to try and figure out the ‘how’ of the matter, though ‘who’ you may be able to guess.  The story, acting and images are all quite enjoyable on their own without the added satisfaction of having ’solved’ the case.

And I certainly recommend this film which is now available on dvd. In fact, Paradise Murdered is  safely among my ‘top 5? favorite releases of 2007 so far.  Enjoy!

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Summertime (2001)

9th January 2010

summertimeOriginally posted September 6, 2007–Yesterday, I received my monthly order of dvds which included many interesting titles. It also included Summertime.   I had a vague memory about not liking this movie but I couldn’t remember too much about it so I decided to pop the disk into the dvd player to refresh my memory.  It all came back to me–I don’t like this movie anf for more than one reason.

The first thing that I do not like about the movie is its treatment of the Gwangju Incident. Sang-ho took part in to demonstrations in Gwangju and is now on the run from the authorities. He hides out above the house of Hee-ran and Tae-yeol. Tae-yeol is a former policeman who has been laid off for taking bribes and is now working as a securtiy guard. Hee-ran is a woman he raped years ago and later married. He keeps her locked in their house all day for fear that she will run away. The two almost never look at each other and their interactions follow the same routine day in and day out. 

 Sang-ho watches everything they do through a hole in the floor and becomes obsessed with Hee-ran as a sexual fantasy. One day, Tae-yeol drops the keys to the house  and they are found by Sang-ho. The first chance he gets, Sang-ho enters the house and imitates the habits of Tae-yeol so that Hee-ran will not suspect anything or look to see who is in her house. Sang-ho then rapes her while she thinks that she is with her husband. Being the kind of movie that this is, when Hee-ran does eventually look at the man she is having sex with and realizes that she has no idea who he is, she does not call the police or even look perturbed for more than twenty seconds. Instead she kisses him and thanks him for ‘a moment of freedom’ before carrying on where they left off.

I have problems with this on so many levels-including how it relates to Gwangju.  In this film, Hee-ran represents Korea. Her husband, who had taken her by force and who has now lost his true authority while remaining authoritarian, represents the government of the 1970s and 80s when the Gwangju incident took place. And Sang-ho moves from being a demonstrator to representing the whole of the democratic movement, offering a moment of freedom to Korea.

BUT Sang-ho’s rape of Hee-ra is a crime. That plus his bizarre acts of voyeurism and his envy of Tae-yeol do a grave disservice to the men and woman who sacrificed their lives in the opposition of tyrrany.  Furthermore, the director chose only to present the official government statistics of the Gwangju Incident through a radio report which states that only 74 people participated in the demonstrations (or ‘riots’ as the announcer calls them). This may be ok for the radio announcer to say as that is what was reported at the time. However, an alternate and more accurate view is never presented! not even by Sang-ho!  He calls himself an outlaw and states that all his friends have been arrested.  It really makes me wonder what the director was thinking.  By 2001, the facts of the Gwangju Massacre were pretty clear-why does director Park Jae-ho seem to be supporting the view of the dicatorship of old?

Besides this, there are other reasons not to like Summertime. Some of the shots are very uncomfortable.  I do not have a problem with the amount of sex in the film. However, I do not like the scenes that deal with people peaking through bathroom doors or looking up skirts from under a staircase.  It may be one think for us to see a character doing these things–we would simply lable him as a pervert and move on. But when the camera follows these characters’ points of view and lingers on the image, I think it crosses the line into pornography. 

Despite a few acceptable shots and a fairly good performance by Song Ok-sook as the nosy seamstress, this is not a film I would recommend to anyone.  The only reason I am writing about it at all is because it made me so furious!! Avoid this film.

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Oseam (2003)

9th January 2010

oseamOriginally posted September 10, 2007–When people talk about their favorite Korean animations, I am always surprised how rare it is to hear Oseam mentioned.  If you ask someone what they feel is the best Korean-made animated film of the last decade, many will answer with Wonderful Days and a few will say My Beautiful Girl, Mari.  To be honest, I didn’t care for Wonderful Days at all–it seemed like a run-of-the-mill anime to me.  And I don’t think I ever finished watching my dvd of My Beautiful Girl, Mari and if I did, I don’t remember it which is not a good sign. 

However, Oseam is a movie that I have seen several times and it never becomes boring. The animation, drawn by hand, is beautiful to look at and the story, although moving forward at a leisurely pace, is enjoyable to watch.  It is based on a novel by the same title written by Jeong Chae-bong and published in 1986.

The story is about Gam-yi a young girl of about 8 years old and her five-year old brother, Gil-sonyi.  When Gil-sonyi was an infant, there was a terrible accident and the children’s mother was killed in a fire. At the same time, Gam-yi lost her sight.  The pair now wander the countryside with the young boy leading his older sister. Because of his young age, Gil-sonyi does not do a very good job of guiding his sister and often leaves her on her own while he goes off to chase butterflies, catch a puppy or scrounge some food.

Gil-sonyi is the focus of the story.  His character is pure and his laughter is contagious. He never feels the dispair over his situation the way Gam-yi does because he does not know that they alone in the world. In fact, he believes that they are looking for their mother. He does not remember the fire or even his mother’s face, but he is convinced that they will find her soon. 

The siblings stumble across a kind monk on his way back to his temple.  As winter is approaching, he invites the children to stay on at the temple grounds. They accept his offer and are soon living in a warm room with enough food. Gam-yi is grateful and makes herself useful by helping the kitchen staff prepare food or by doing the laundry and sweeping the grounds.  Gil-sonyi, however, is as bored as any normal pre-schooler would be living with a bunch of monks who strive for silence.  His mischievous nature takes over and soon he is stealing the monks shoes to decorate trees or helping himself to the offerings left for Buddha.  Although the monks do not always approve of his behavior, they do understand and the boy is quite popular with them, so much so that one of the monks invites him on a journey to a secluded retreat at a small temple on a mountaintop.

Gil-sonyi readily agrees to go, but finds it almost as boring there as it was at the larger temple. However he does find things to do to keep himself occupied. But then the monk has to go to town for supplies and he opts to leave Gil-sonyi at the temple believing that he will be alright alone for a few days.  He goes, giving Gil-sonyi a warning not to go into the dilapitated structure behind the small temple as that building is where an old monk died of lepresy and it is now unsafe.  However, almost as soon as the monk has left, the lonely Gil-sonyi makes his way to the unused building and finds an unusual companion to keep him company.

There is much more to the story than this and the end always leaves me in tears.  If this film is not already part of your Korean movie collection, I recommend that you track it down. You will not regret it.

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The Ball Shot By a Midget (1981)

9th January 2010

ball shot by a midgetOriginally posted September 13, 2007–I really wish that people who put out dvds of classic films did more to promote them. Here is a film that is in dire need of promotion and it is readily available on sub-titled dvd.  It is an excellent, if somewhat above average, example of Korean cinema from the 1980s.

The Ball Shot By A Midget was directed by Lee Won-se based on Jo Se-hee’s 1976 best-selling novel.  Now you might be thinking, “Wait a minute…The film was released in ‘81, the novel was written in ‘76. Why does the original poster have 1979 written on the top?”  That is nothing to worry about. In 1979, the novel was nominated for the Dongin Literary Awards.  You also might want to ignore the English title on that poster, Flew One Little Dad. That has long since been discarded in favor of a direct translation of the Korean title. While you’re at it, ignore the woman on the original poster who is making this look like cheap porn. She was only put there to get people into the theater.

The movie is a very well made social criticism which certainly would not have been allowed just a few years earlier. But by 1981, there was a new regime that was trying to legitimize itself. Restrictions on movies were slowly being relaxed and, as this film is set in 1975, it was not a direct criticism of the new government’s policies (although it would be guilty of the same things that the movie’s antagonists were).

It is the story of a family whose father, Bul-yi,  happens to be vertically challenged.  His son Yeong-soo has just been released from prison for some unknown offense.  His daughter Yeong-hee works at a combination grocery store/diner and his youngest son washes cars for a living and dreams of becoming a boxer.  Bul-yi’s wife works the salt fields while Bul-yi was recently released from his job in a travelling circus where he played the trumpet.

Bul-yi has always felt inadequate because of his height, but that feeling is now strengthened as he is unemployed. Hating the idea of his wife and children supporting him on their pitiful salaries, Bul-yi takes the only job that he can. He becomes a doorman of at a bar dressed in an offensive suit that robs him of his dignity.  Bul-yi also hates how everyone treats his grown children when they discover who their father is. For example, Yeong-hee was being followed by a boy to shy to introduce himself to her. A little annoyed at his awkward advances, Yeong-hee runs over to her father. When the boy sees how small her father is, he quickly runs away leaving Yeong-hee to happily declare, “That’s the last I’ll see of him!” not realizing just how hurtful those words are to her father.

Yeong-soo is the one that the family seems to rely on for so many things although he seems to be quite ineffective.  He had started to study higher education, but apparently gave that up. He is told by each member of his family at one point or another that he never should have done that. He is simply not meant for hard labor.  He does do his best though, taking a job at a local factory making pots and pans. His job was to fill a bucket with molten steel, walk it over to the pot molds and poor it in.  Sounds dangerous? It is and his inexperience at that kind of work soon leaves him injured and housebound for awhile. 

The family might still have been able to eke out their existence if it hadn’t been for fate. The waters around the village have become polluted making the salt worthless. The owners of the salt farm have pulled out and the entire village is about to be torn down and replaced by factories and new apartments.  The government offers everyone the opportunity to sell their little shacks, but the buying prices are not enough to put a down payment of an apartment. And they have no choice in the matter. They can either accept the compensation money that is being offered, or their house can be knocked down and they get nothing.

The family has to decide what they will do, where to go, and how they will stay together in a situation that they have no control over.  Highly recommended

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Home Sweet Home (2004)

9th January 2010

home sweet homeOriginally posted September 27, 2007–It is a sad fact that there are simply not enough ways to view short films.  Scores of films are made each year but unless you are able to attend every film festival out there, then you probably will not see many of these.  And someone who just watches their films in a multiplex will probably never see these films at all.  That is a tragedy because some of the best films to come around each year are not feature length films made by famous directors with bundles of money, but small films made on shoestring budget that probably run less than an hour long.  Today something jogged my memory and I recalled the film Home Sweet Home directed by Uhm Hye-jeong that I saw back in 2004.  Although I have not seen the film since then, the story and feelings I made such an impression that I am still able to remember the entire film and can say with confidence that it is one of my favorites.

The scene opens with a family in tears. The father, mother and elder daughter have been watching tv and saw that their was a fire at the preschool that the youngest member of the family attends.  It is now quite dark outside as the news shows bodies being pulled from the wreckage of the school and the family’s wailing fills their small apartment. Then the doorbell rings.

Standing at the door is the little girl, hair disheveld, blackend with soot and cuts on her leg.  She says nothing and is clearly in shock or….A ghost!!  Ok–that was the first thing I thought and it was certainly the director’s intention.  The family members seem skittish around her and her silence is terrifying. Even when she is dropped into a hot bath, she makes no sound or movement.  It is not until the elder daughter intentionally hurts her that the little girl suddenly starts screaming and you realize that she was just in shock after all.

You would think that would please the family but instead it seems to have the opposite effect.  Although they clearly love her–reading her favorite story, dancing around the house together–the family all believes that it would have been better for them and for her if she had died.  The explanation is even more terrifying than the supernatural, the conclusion is quite macabre and the thoughts of what must surely follow is horrifying, but together they combine to make one of the most memorable short films I have ever seen.

I sincerely hope that someone, somewhere adds this film to a collection of shorts. I would love to see it again.

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Nematomorph (2006)

9th January 2010

Orininally posted October 11, 2007–Nematomorph was a short film released at the most recent Jeonju International Film Festival.  Directed by a new director, Choi Seung-min, it features a scene that is far creepier and more suspenseful than any found in most recent full length horror films and demonstrates this young man’s potential to be an innovative director in a genre that is in dire need of fresh ideas.   

Running only 15 minutes, the film is very dark starting off with a slew of images depicting the aftermath of various suicides.  Oddly, every scene of death is accompanied by a great deal of water–even when it seems unneeded. For example, you would expect to see water in a case where someone has jumped off a bridge or killed themselves in a bathtub, but why is there water all over the floor in the case of a hanging?  The radio we hear in the background also indicates that suicide is rising to an almost epidemic proportion. What is causing this?

The movie then quickly settles on the character shown above, actor Ju Seong-min playing Seon-jae, as he drifts emotionlessly through his day.  It is clear that he is very depressed and his parents are not the most understanding of people so the audience soon comes to fear for this man and what his actions may be.  Seon-jae’s room is very disturbing.  He raises lizards and he keeps his room dark except for the light needed for his vivarium.  The light seems quite harsh as is the incessant sound of crickets that he is using for his pets’ food.  The room is anything but inviting–and then there is the bathroom scene.

Seon-jae goes to take a bath in his house which has a huge, extremely well-lit bathroom. Despite its size, it is very bare except for the tub and a mirror that stretches the entire length and height of the wall where the bathtub is. Just looking at it, you know something is going to happen. In a standard horror film, a ghost would pass by seen only in the mirror or something would reach through and grab the hero. But this is not a standard film and what happens original and suspeneful.

Even though the director certainly did not have a large budget for this–it was he senior project as part of his final year at university majoring in Film–the sets  are good and atmosphere that he manages to create rival or surpass any of the big budget movies that we have seen in recent days.  Remember the name Choi Seung-min. I would not be at all surprised to see him directing feature length horror films in the coming years.

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