Mourning Grave (소녀괴담) – ★★★☆☆

Mourning Grave (소녀괴담)

Mourning Grave (소녀괴담)

Ever since he was young, high school student In-su (Kang Ha-neul (강하늘) has had the ability to see ghosts. Following a traumatic incident In-su moved to Seoul, only to find that his ‘gifts’ developed further, and apparitions appeared ever more frequently. Finally deciding to give up city life In-su returns to his countryside hometown, reuniting with his agoraphobic shaman uncle Seon-il (Kim Jeong-tae (김정태). Yet almost immediately upon his arrival a mysterious girl ghost (Kim So-eun (김소은) begins following him, and a relationship begins to blossom. Meanwhile, at In-su’s new high school, students begin disappearing one by one as a masked, vengeful spirit patrols the hallways.

A masked, vengeful ghost stalks the hallways of In-su's new school

A masked, vengeful ghost stalks the hallways of In-su’s new school

Mourning Grave (소녀괴담) is marketed primarily as a horror film, yet in truth director Oh In-cheon’s (오인천) feature debut actually amalgamates an array of genres to become a teenage romantic-comedy-drama with a macabre twist. The mix of generic features works surprisingly well as Mourning Grave is consistently an entertaining and quite enjoyable addition to the K-horror canon, one which contains an infectious appeal due to the light-hearted tone throughout.

Ironically, the jovial nature of the film, in conjunction with a narrative structure told through a series of vignettes rather than an overarching whole, is competent yet also halts the story from being particularly effective. This is perhaps understandable given director Oh’s history as an acclaimed director of short films, however the approach results in the originality of the screenplay, as well as the serious social issues within, lacking in resonance. Bullying is of central concern within Mourning Grave and the film is noteworthy for emphasising the role of the teachers, students, and even society in the creation of, and ignorance towards, the abuses endured by students. Yet as it features within an episodic sequence rather than as an underlying theme throughout, the portrayal is provoking albeit fleeting, which is a genuine shame.

Kim Jeong-tae steals the show with his turn as agoraphobic shaman Seon-il

Kim Jeong-tae steals the show with his turn as agoraphobic shaman Seon-il

As central couple In-su and ‘girl ghost’, both Kang Ha-neul and Kim So-eun are delightful. The development of their friendship and burgeoning romance is conveyed with sincerity and is lovely to watch unfold. Unfortunately due to the vignette style of the narrative the screen-time Kang and Kim share is infrequent, yet when they appear together the film embodies the qualities of innocent first love, propelling Mourning Grave into a compellingly sweet love story. However both they, as well as the other actors who fill the high school roles, are clearly too old to be playing students and serve as a distraction from the story. Luckily veteran actor Kim Jeong-tae helps to allay such issues by stealing the show as uncle Seon-il. As the agoraphobic shaman Kim is incredibly funny, employing all sorts of trickery to stop ghosts from bothering him, with his comedic timing never failing to hit the mark.

Due to the gentle nature that permeates the film, Mourning Grave is quite a predictable affair. Hints that are laced throughout the story are particularly easy to ascertain, although it is still enjoyable to see the results achieve fruition, while even the various comedic, romantic, and dramatic cliches employed are entertaining enough to raise a smile. The ever-present horror epilogue sequence, which attempts to bond the characters through a shared history and destiny, also features within Mourning Grave and while such scenes are frustratingly commonplace, director Oh has crafted an endearing finale that is poignant and heartfelt.

Central couple In-su and his ghostly companion form an endearing romance

Central couple In-su and his ghostly companion form an endearing romance

Verdict:

Mourning Grave is billed as a horror film, yet in truth director Oh In-cheon’s directorial debut actually encompasses an array of generic conventions, underpinned with a ghostly mystery. Due to the light-hearted tone the film is consistently entertaining, and the approach to serious social issues such as bullying is refreshing. Unfortunately such themes aren’t explored fully thanks to the vignette storytelling style, yet the endearing central couple, and a show stealing performance by Kim Jeong-tae as an agoraphobic shaman, make Mourning Grave an enjoyable addition to the K-horror canon.

★★★☆☆

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Korean Festivals 2014 Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (제 18회 부천국제판타스틱영화제) Reviews
The 18th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

PiFan 2014: World Fantastic Cinema

The 18th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

The 18th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

The 18th Buchon Fantastic International Film Festival (PiFan) is due to commence on July 17th, showcasing genre films from around the world during its 10 day run. For an overview of the festival, please click here.

In the World Fantastic Cinema program are a selection of 44 films that blur the lines between reality and fantasy, a focus that matches the overall theme of the festival of ‘Love, Fantasy, Adventure.’

Within the program are 8 Korean films highlighting the genre output of the past year, featuring science-fiction, thrillers, as well as a handful of recent horror releases. The films range from big-budgeted fare through to smaller indie output, and feature some of the industry’s top talent both in front of and behind the camera. Each Korean entry is profiled below.

World Fantastic Cinema

11 AM (열한시)

Director Kim Hyeon-seok (김현석)

11 AM

11 AM

11 AM

11 AM

Time travel thriller 11 AM is quite a rarity in Korean cinema due to the combination of a futuristic science-fiction narrative and big name actors. The film stars Jeong Jae-young and Kim Ok-bin as scientists who succeed in creating a time machine, propelling themselves to 11 am the next day on a test mission. Yet upon arrival they discover the lab has been destroyed and someone with murderous intent is on the loose, and the duo must work together to figure out what went wrong.

11 AM secured modest returns when released back in November 2013, garnering over 728,000 admissions and accumulating just over 5 million dollars at the box office (source: Kobiz).

Broken (방황하는 칼날)

Director Lee Jeong-ho (이정호)

Broken

Broken

Broken

Broken

Based on the Japanese novel by Keigo Higashino, thriller Broken features Jeong Jae-young as struggling single father Sang-hyun, who works hard to support his daughter Soo-jin. When Soo-jin is found raped and murdered, Sang-hyun desperately wants the culprits brought to justice yet the investigation uncovers little of worth. When Sang-hyun receives a text message indicating the criminals, and where they live, the grieving father sets out to deliver his own brand of revenge.

Broken had the misfortune of being released around the same time as the Sewol ferry disaster, and given the nature of the narrative, audiences where understandably reluctant. PiFan 2014 provides a great opportunity to catch the film again.

Hwayi : A Monster Boy (화이 : 괴물을 삼킨 아이)

Director Jang Joon-hwan (장준환)

Hwayi: A Monster Boy

Hwayi: A Monster Boy

Hwayi: A Monster Boy

Hwayi: A Monster Boy

Director Jang debuted with the phenomenal Save the Green Planet, a film that instantly became a cult classic despite low returns. After years of starts-and-stops on various projects, the director returns with thriller Hwayi.

The film depicts the story of teenager Hwayi who lives in the country with his five criminal fathers, each of whom teaches the youngster the skills of the underworld. Life is fairly uneventful until the gang take on a new job, forcing a couple to leave a town in Incheon for a development company, and Hwayi is brought along to prove his worth. As events unfold, it becomes clear that there is much more to Hwayi’s past than he was led to believe, and the young man sets out to discover the truth of his origins.

Mourning Grave (소녀괴담)

Director Oh In-cheon (오인천)

Mourning Grave

Mourning Grave

Mourning Grave

Mourning Grave

Korean horrors are unfortunately something of a rarity in recent years, yet luckily Mourning Grave, which fortuitously opened only two weeks prior to PiFan, has stepped up to fill the void.

Director Oh’s feature length debut follows student In-su (Kang Ha-neul), who has the ability to see spirits. Despite moving around and changing schools, In-su’s ‘gift’ hasn’t left him, and he decides to return to his hometown where his ability first manifested. However his plan backfires as he is beset by apparitions, yet he manages to befriend a mysterious girl ghost (Kim So-eun). As time passes, In-su begins to notice that students are disappearing, with all the evidence pointing towards a girl sporting an horrific mask.

Nothing Lost (아무 것도 사라지지 않는다)

Director Kim Seung-hyeok (김승혁)

Nothing Lost

Nothing Lost

Nothing Lost

Nothing Lost

Nothing Lost receives its world premiere at PiFan 2014, and is one of the few Korean films in the category to do so.

Director Kim’s feature length debut is a crime thriller set in a sleepy country town. When a high school girl suddenly disappears, a local detective is dispatched to investigate and bring the girl home. Yet as he starts to gather clues and piece the evidence together, the case becomes ever more complicated as new witnesses and suspects emerge that serve to embroil the detective deeper into the mystery.

Can the detective solve the mysterious disappearance in this violent, 18-rated thriller?

A Record of Sweet Murder (원 컷 – 어느 친절한 살인자의 기록)

Director Shiraishi Koji

A Record of Sweet Murder

A Record of Sweet Murder

A Record of Sweet Murder

A Record of Sweet Murder

A Record of Sweet Murder is a Korean/Japanese co-production, and was well received at Hong Kong Filmart. Director Shiraishi Koji previously helmed horror Grotesque in 2009, and with his latest film he descends into the dark recesses of the human mind once more with a Korean cast, notably featuring indie darling Kim Kko-bbi (Pluto).

The story features journalist So-yeon who, after receiving a call from childhood friend turned serial killer Sang-joon, decides to visit and record his version of events to help redeem himself. Traveling to a run down old town with her Japanese cameraman, So-yeon quickly bares witness as grisly and bloody events begin to unfold as Sang-joon attempts to complete his master plan.

The Tunnel 3D (터널 3D)

Director Park Gyoo-taek (박규택)

The Tunnel

The Tunnel

The Tunnel

The Tunnel

Director Park Gyu-taek provides the only 3D entry in the category and, due to the nature of the horror genre combined with the confines of claustrophobic tunnels, looks set to be an effective use of the technology.

A group of friends are invited to the opening ceremony of a new resort, located in the mountains and built on top of an abandoned coal mine. As drinks flow and a good time is had by all, a mysterious man bursts into the celebration shouting that they will all be killed by a curse. When the friends accidently kill the man during a terrible series of events, they decide to hide the body within the subterranean network, yet find more horrors than they bargained for.

Zombie School (좀비스쿨)

Director Kim Seok-jeong (김석정)

Zombie School

Zombie School

Zombie School

Zombie School

Director Kim’s Zombie School may well have one of the most inspired synopses in recent memory.

During the foot and mouth scare in Korea during 2010-2011, thousands of pigs were culled, many of them buried alive in large pits. Today, nearby the peaceful Chilsung School, some of the now-zombified pigs have emerged from their mass grave and have bitten teachers from the school, turning them into the undead. The students are forced to band together in order to fight against the zombie menace as teachers and pigs alike threaten their very lives.

Zombie School looks set to be a black comedy in the vein of Black Sheep (2006), and has the potential to be one of the more unique offerings at PiFan.

Festival News Korean Festivals 2014 Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (제 18회 부천국제판타스틱영화제)