Seen in Jeonju

Bunshinsaba (2004)

8th July 2012

166991If someone were to hand me a paper and pencil (and a wad of cash) and say that I can choose any recent movie I want to remake, I think it would be Bunshinsaba.  That is because, while there is a lot to like with this film, it is far from perfect and needs fleshing out. Even though the movie is a full two hours, I thought it would have benefited from more time. As it was, even at two hours, the story felt rushed and the cuts were quite sudden jumping from one scene to the next without transition. One part that needs more attention is the village itself. The cloistered and superstitious atmosphere of the village and its residents is key to this film, and yet 80 percent of the film is spent set in the girls’ high school and its grounds and 15 percent more is spent in the house of the psychic/hypnotist leaving very little time for the rest of the village.  I’ll have more to say about that in a minute. First a brief summary (skip the next paragraph if you are afraid of spoilers..)

The movie begins with a trio of girls preparing a seance, chanting ‘Bunshinsaba,” a chant which is used in high schools and young soldiers to someone wandering spirits. The ring leader of the group warns the others not to open their eyes during the seance as it invites the ghost into their bodies.  So, of course, someone opens their eyes…  The girl’s knew the dangers going into this as they had talked about the cursed seat in their classroom which they chose as the site of their seance and they plan to put this curse on a group of four bullies who have been harrassing them, so they had strong suspicions that the ghost they were calling, long rumored to haunt their school, was an evil spirit.   There curse seems to work as the next day one of the bullies is discovered burned to death in the classroom early the next morning. From there, the ghost goes on a murderous rampage, not stopping when the girls on the death list are all dispatched, but continuing on with a quest for revenge of its own. What is the revenge for? What is the dark secret the little village, where outsiders rarely visit and no one leaves? And what dark  connection does the ghost have with the new Art teacher?

I started out this review by mentioning that there is a lot to like in this film. One of the things are some creative visuals.  Oh, there are quite a few cliches that anyone can see coming a mile a way, but some are very well done.  I especially liked the ghost(s) in the mirror scene which, in hindsight, gives some of the first clues of what is going on. I liked the fact that no one in the film simply dismissed the claims of students to have seen a ghost as they all had reason to believe it could exist. And I liked the fact that there were still revelations coming that made sense (at least in the ground rules set by the film).

What needs fixing, more than anything else, is that editing and the lack of transitions.  Characters jump from scene to scene in completely different locations. Often they don’t show the emotions that one would expect based on the prior scene andit is a little jolting.  I imagine that if the necessary transitions were put in, the running time would increase by half and hour, but that would not be a problem. There are other things that could be cut. For example, we don’t need to see the death of every single victim of the haunting and the psychic scenes, used to provide flashbacks, could have been greatly reduced.

Actually, in my remake, the pretty young psychic would have been replaced with a more traditional shaman. The village is supposed to be steeped in superstition and fear hence everyone believing in ghosts and curses, so the modern young psychic with the beaded curtains on the doors of her very modern house seems out of place. More time really has to be spent on the village and its dark history given the events of the film. We are not even given any shots on the community to make an estimate about how big it is.. but given the size of the girls high school, I think it is quite large ..more like a small town..which doesn’t match the atmosphere the film is attempting to create. They also needed to highlight the differences between outsiders more than they did. Even though the characters presumably no who is an outsider from generations living together, we are not given any clues until one of the characters makes a point to tell us. In the remake in my head, this differentiation would not be done through dialect, but in how the characters carry themselves..their posture and their body language.

Bunshinsaba is an interesting film that goes for shock-style scares rather than a build up of suspense. In some cases, that would annoy me, but here it is tolerated because the story was not bad.  This movie is worth your time if you can track it down.. just don’t expect anything too groundbreaking. Just enjoy it for what it is..and image afterwards like I did what it could be with a good re-working of some of the elements.

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