June 27, 2006
There is something afoot in Korean horror movies. From "Arang," to be released on June 28, via "Apartment," out in July, to "To Sir With Love," "Cinderella" and "Untold Story- The Red Forest" all to be released in August, indigenous horror movies have evolved to a higher level. In an effort to wash away the cheap shocker taint, the budgets are growing and the casts are becoming stellar. This summer, even moviegoers with sophisticated tastes are bound to find one good enough for them.
Horror films have long been a gateway to success for new directors due to their relatively low budgets. If a W2-3 billion (US$1=\958) investment including marketing costs lured more than 1 million viewers, the movie was considered to have hit the jackpot. But the new slew of horror films are betting on quality. "To Sir With Love" cost W4.2 billion, "Apartment" W4 billion, "Arang" W4 billion and "Cinderella" W3.6 billion ? all pretty close to the average for Korean movies, which stands at some W4.5 billion.
More and more established directors are eyeing horror films as their next screen project. Ahn Byung-gi, well known for such horror films as "The Scissors" (2000), "Phone" (2002) and "Bunsinsaba" (2004) promises to "show people what real horror is" with "Apartment," the movie he directed based on a comic book. Bong Man-dae, who specialized in melodramas like "Sweet Sex and Love," has changed tack with "Cinderella." Dream And Pictures, the producer of "Arang," say horror films like "Phone" and "A Tale Of Two Sisters" have succeeded both in terms of quality and box office and even produced stars since 2000. As a result, there has been a growing perception that horror films can no longer stint on quality.
Time was when all horror movies had to do was make audiences grip their arm rests. Films like "Whispering Corridors" and "Bunsinsaba" cast teenage newcomers to do the screaming. But this year is seeing experienced actresses who built their career in more respectable films and TV dramas, from Ko So-young in "Apartment" to Song Yun-a in "Arang" and Do Ji-won in "Cinderella", turn to gruesome tales. Ko So-young surprised a few people by choosing a horror film as her first movie in four years since “Double Agent” in 2002.
Earlier in the decade, "The Scissors" (2000), "Phone" (2002) or "The Red Shoes" (2005) were all about objects with curses attached. This year, the horror is in confined spaces. "Apartment" uses an ordinary contemporary dwelling to scare us witless. In "Cinderella," it is the house where a plastic surgeon lives with her daughter, and "To Sir With Love" is set in the villa of an elementary school teacher where her students get together. "Arang" makes terrifying use of a salt store in the country. "Objects are good for causing immediate horror, but ordinary spaces in our daily lives have a slower, more indirect psychological horror," says a staffer at IM Pictures, the producer of "Apartment."
The Lasting Grudge
One constant, however, is the grudge motivating indigenous Korean ghosts. "Arang" is a new take on the traditional story of a vengeful ghost girl told in North Gyeongsang Province. And if there are no ghosts, it is still the desire for retribution that motivates the evil goings-on. "Korean audiences still want to see traditional ghosts in horror movies. Slasher or hard-gore movies with their relentless splatter of blood don’t do well here," says a member of the "Arang" crew.