Wednesday 15 April 2009

Cinderella (2006)

Director: Bong Man-dae
Stars: Do Ji-won and Sin Se-Kyung

I've become something of a fan of Korean movies, though even twenty some films in I'm only scratching the surface. This one is a horror movie, one promising high on the ick factor because of its framework, plastic surgery, though surprisingly skimping on that front. We begin pretty vaguely, with a birthday cake and a suicide by hanging and a music box soundtrack, but it doesn't take long for a lovely young lady to go under the knife. And this film is packed with lovely young ladies. In fact it's rare that we see anything else: there are few men in the film and when they get screen time, it doesn't last. I think only one ever spoke. And hey, I'm not complaining!

We follow a young lady by the name of Choi Hyeon-su. She's on summer break but attending classes at the SBrush Art Academy with her friends. All of these are teenage girls and they all look good but, like many teenage girls are mildly obsessed with their looks. Fortunately for them, Hyeon-su's mother Yoon-hee is a plastic surgeon, but unfortunately for them, this is a K-horror film so you know it's not going to turn out well for most of them. The first girl to die is Sukyung, who cuts her face off with a sliver of broken mirror after facial surgery.

Now there's something strange going on, beyond the obvious facts that Sukyung saw some weird Asian crawling ghost thing while preparing for her surgery, that she goes gradually insane through a belief that she's not wearing her own face and that she commits bloody suicide. It's not even the fact that all the young ladies who die do so after having been worked on by Yoon-hee. They all see something strange too, presumably the ghost in some form or other, and other more traditional supernatural shenanigans go on too, like lights going out and visions in mirrors.

I'm looking more at the relationship between Hyeon-su and her mother, which is a little intense and obsessive from moment one, even allowing for the fact that the two of them comprise the entire family: daddy lives somewhere else and we don't meet him until much later. Hyeon-su calls Yoon-hee her best friend, her husband, her mother, which is a little bizarre, and in return Yoon-hee dotes on her to extreme degrees. She washes her in the bath and at one point even takes a cast of her daughter's face. It gets more and more suspicious as the film runs on.

And then we're treated to the reason: Hyeon-su isn't Hyeon-su. She's an missing child who Yoon-hee brought home from a church after the real Hyeon-su was severely burned in a overheating car explosion, and then raised from a young age to believe that she's Hyeon-su. Or at least Hyeon-su believes so after finding pictures with her name on them in her mother's basement. There's definitely some twisted obsession going on and it gets even more twisted from there, as work through a few twists to realise what else happened back in the past of this family.

It's a powerfully twisted vision and Do Ji-won does a great job as the orchestrator, Yoon-hee, showing us all the various facets of her role from caring mother to madwoman and back, across a number of years. Unfortunately, as someone who doesn't too great at working out whodunit in mysteries, I worked this one out pretty early and so the second half of the film didn't hold too much in the way of surprise. I kept watching, held by the capable if not stunning cinematography, shocks and acting performances, to see if I'd missed anything and to see how it would all play out. It is nicely layered and there was one twist I missed.

I was disappointed at the lack of actual plastic surgery scenes, which would have brought some obviously juicy ick to the film, though we do get a very cool mutual face cutting in the art lab. Some of the transitioning between scenes by reusing the set and the characters didn't work too well for me. Mostly I was just disappointed at how easily I worked it out, and that may be unfair because it doesn't seem to be badly done. Perhaps my mind is just twisted on the same wavelength as screenwriter Son Kwang-soo and others would be shocked and stunned at how it all turns out.

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