Seen in Jeonju

Guest (2010)

24th June 2012


Human beings seem to have this flaw of not being able to look away from things like car accidents and train wrecks… and I must  have that fault times 10.  How else can I justify sitting through the entire runnning time of the movie, Guest? While watching, I took notes and at four different times I marked down that I was considering turning the movie off..and yet I didn’t. 

In fact, I had a pretty good idea that this movie might not be good. It had been released on a single screen and Seoul and had only one showing.  My buying the DVD probably doubled the money that that made from that release.  However, I wanted to give the movie a chance because there are many films that I like and no one else seems to.. and vice versa. There was, I thought, a chance that this was a hidden treasure. That’s the problem of being an optimist. It sometimes leads to viewing experiences with films that I don’t want to repeat.

You may have noticed that I put two posters in the image above which is not something I usually do. This was to demonstrate the name change the film underwent. Even if you cannot read Korean, you will notice the lettering is different. The movie was originally going to be called in Korean ‘Bulcheong Gaek’ and have the English title of The Univited Guest.  However, it was never released under that name. Instead it actually hit theaters.. I mean ‘a’ theater… a year later, under the title of ‘Sonnim 1: Cheotbeonjae Iyagi’ which translates as The Guest 1: The First Story. I was going to use the name The Univited Guest, but the opening sequence of the DVD provides the English title of simply Guest, so that is what I went with. 

Between name changes, the film mercifully lost about 15 minutes of running time. It also lost some visuals as well .. and two words of dialogue.  What do I mean by that?  Well, in the movie Ji-min, the husband, is wearing his favorite shirt, a baseball jersey. However, the production crew obviously could not secure permission to use the name of the team nor of the player. So Ji-min is followed around by a cloud of digitalized pixels that try to obscure the writing on his shirt. Unfortunately, the writing is on the front, on the back and on both sleeves and the pixels dance with the slighest move he makes in their efforts to hid the name of the athlete and team.  If you know Korean baseball, you will know immediately what team they are trying to hide.. only one starts with a ‘W’ nor are the pixels any more skilled at obscuring the players name.  That is not all. We also get a whole screen of pixelization when someone, wisely, decided to hid the loving close up of a pile of vomit. While I was grateful for the visual protection, I have to wonder why the offending two seconds was not simply cut if it was deemed to graphic.. or perhaps phoney?…  in post production. The audio is ‘bleeped’ out twice while watching when the name of a second pro-baseball team is mentioned.. no body apparently wanted anything to do with this film.  Strangely, the team’s name appears in the English subtitles anyway… good job on hiding it, guys…

The movie is a thriller of the home invasion kind.  I think long ago after watching Midnight FM, I mentioned how home invasions are my least favorite kind of horror.  Probably because, when it is done well, it is too realistic and I become too tense and nervous and, when not done well, they are annoying in the choices characters make or in the near-superhuman ability of the antagonists to prevent the hostages from escape or of seeking outside help.  This film is definitely the latter.  The film fails to build up any tension at all even though the threat of injury, death and rape come up quite frequently. The script tries to up the ante by having the main character four months pregnant and the having other hostage a mother of a who one-year-old daughter whom she left sleeping in the apartment while she popped in to deliver leftover cake.  However, it doesn’t work at all.

I am being a negative to the film, and not without cause, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some things to like in the story. There is a strange dance scene in the film where Dong-soo, the crazy home invader, asks for dance lessons (and you wonder why I couldn’t take the threat seriously?)   The neighbor nervously starts teaching him but soon gets into the steps with wild, even joyful, abandon and she and the criminal dance on opposite sides of the room from pregnant Na-yeon who is framed in the middle looking at both of them with an expression of horror.  It is surprisingly well shot considering how unimaginative the rest of the movie is. Another thing I thought I would like was the choice of Dong-soo’s name. I was certain it was going to be an alias because there was a comic sketch from a few years ago on Korean tv featuring a man and is imaginary friend Dong-soo.. a being whom no one could see or hear. However, no connection was made to that and we never learn whether Dong-soo was the insane man’s real name or not. In his first appearances, ringing the doorbell in the dead of the night, he is suitably creepy and, were I directing the film, I might have dragged that out a little more (and added a hefty does of much needed characterization instead of the broad, heavy-handed strokes of character we are given).

I strongly recommend you avoid this film at all costs.  I don’t care of the director personally visits your house with a signed copy.. believe me, you will be wasting 80 minutes of your life that would be better spent watching  pretty much anything.  It is a bad, bad movie. The director, who has a cutting sense of irony, renamed the film Guest 1: The First Story. However, I can guarantee that their will never be a Guest 2. At least, as an optimist, that is what I am going to believe…

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