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Saturday, 7 November 2009

Bloody Reunion (2006)

Director: Lim Dae-woong
Stars: Oh Mee-hee and Seo Yeong-hee
I love Korean horror movies, I think I love them even more than Japanese horror movies though they're often derivative of them. I've heard from many sources, not least the highly knowledgeable Ric Meyers, that Korean cinema isn't what it was but I'm a few years behind through catching up mostly through seasons of Extreme Asia on the Sundance Channel. This one is from 2006, a year that also saw Cinderella, as well as a couple of non-horror films, Kim Ki-duk's Time and Park Chan-wook's I'm a Cyborg and That's OK. All are solid, to different degrees, so if Korean cinema has gone downhill, it wasn't this early.

This one's about Mrs Park, a schoolteacher. When we first meet her she's pregnant and her waters break while she's on some sort of school outing. She gives birth to a deformed child who she calls Young-min and which fact her husband simply can't deal with. So Young-min gets banished to the basement, to be hidden from the world and teased by the kids at the school. Apparently that isn't enough, so after a number of years Mr Park hangs himself in the basement while listening to Beethoven. And I had to watch all this twice because it unfolds at rapid fire, giving us what could be anything up to ten years in about a minute.

We have a couple more leaps left. After the title screen we leap forward to the present so the authorities can make a horrific discovery. They're there because a couple of girls have survived something horrible and sure enough, when the cops switch on the light in the basement they find what the girls escaped: a whole batch of tortured bodies strapped to chairs, bloody and unrecognisable. Then we leap back a little way to find out what it's all about. We find Mrs Park still living at the school, but now as an aging and terminally ill lady with memory issues and strange visions. She's being cared for by Nam Mi-ja, one of her former students and, to cheer this nice old lady up, Mi-ja has organised a reunion of some of her old students, who are an agreeably different bunch.

Kim Myung-ho drives up in his beat up Daewoo, looking like a rebel with a heart. Dar-bong hitches a ride in the back of a vegetable truck most of the way, but ends up getting picked up by Soon-hee. She was formerly Super Pig Soon-hee, the resident class chunky girl, but now she looks like a model with her pink car and vivid red dress. Classmates Eun-young and Se-ho arrive together because they're getting married. Jung-won, the shy kid who quit school after his mom's car accident, stayed in town so he's been coming round for a year or so. What we find is that they all share something in common other than being classmates: they were all tormented to some degree or other by Mrs Park, who made a lasting negative impact on each of their future lives.

After suggesting to us that Mrs Park is just a nice old lady, which actress Oh Mee-hee can carry without a problem, we're shown her dark side, making us wonder why so many students chose to travel to a reunion set up specifically for her. Dar-bong used to be the athletic one in school but ended up with a crippled leg, apparently because of one of her punishments that had him do squat thrusts for an entire day. Jung-won got chased out of class for soiling himself the very day his mother got killed in a car accident. Everyone laughed at Soon-hee when the scales broke during physical exams and Mrs Park said it was because of her pudginess. Now she's obsessed with her looks and the hospitals won't take her any more. All these kids have grudges.

It's hard to say much more without spoiling the film and that would be a shame here. Suffice it to say that while it's patently obvious from moment one that the mad killer is not who it's set up to be, it isn't you you think it's going to be either. There are a few twists here that work pretty well and warrant a complete rethinking of the entire film. For that reason it's probably not going to play too well on a second viewing but it would be interesting to find out in another five years or so. The peach of an ending brings the film back up but for most of its running time it doesn't quite engage, perhaps because there isn't anyone in the film really worthy of our sympathy except Mi-ja. Seo Yeong-hee shares the top credits here and like the rest of the cast she does a good job but nobody really stands out.

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