As Christmas approaches, Neko jingles her bells, decks the halls, and indulges herself by snagging those pricey import discs that in other more frugal moments she might pass up while waiting for the less expensive HK release to come along. “Gosa” is another of those slick horror films done right, the Korean way, and now available in the 2 disc collectors edition straight from Korea. As the only real horror offering out of Korea from this summer could I pass it up? Not on your life!!
The synopsis reads: “About 200 days prior to the college entrance exam, a school manages a cram course for its top 20 students. Evaluated only by their grades, school life is so stressful that some students suffer from serious mental problems. A sudden piano solo of “Fur Elise” wakes up the sleeping students and a screen shows the top student, Hye-yeong, dying in a water tank. A voice asks the students to solve a question, to decide the fate of Hye-yeong. Will she live or will she die? More importantly…. who will be next?”
Yep…. as any number of films have shown, school days in Korea can be Hell…. Literally. So with this trusty scenario in place who among you wouldn’t want to “Read On”?
“Death Bell” aka “Gosa”, is the feature film debut of former music video Director Yoon Hong-seung and the acting debut of singer Nam Gyoo-ri. Young actor Kim Beom was previously seen in the film “Hellcats” and the popular Korean TV sitcom “High Kick!”. The teachers are played by popular Korean actor Lee Beom-soo and actress Yoon Jeong-hee.
This one starts off with a very similar premise to another Korean school horror film, “D-Day”, with it’s atmosphere of stress, mental illness, and cutthroat competition for grades and that ever so important “class ranking” that separates the “winners” from the “losers” as ruthlessly as battlefield triage…. Its starts with one of the students in a terrifying nightmare featuring fire, blood and…. zombies. From there it only gets better.
Taking a page from “Saw”, this one teases us with an unseen murderer who traps the students, teachers, and staff inside the school during a Holiday, kidnapping the students one by one and forcing the others to solve insane questions while their classmate is tortured and eventually killed if they can’t solve the problem in time. The questions all seem to point to the tragic death of a former student and former #1 in the class rankings last year. Is it her ghost that is behind it all? ……Or is it something else?
This one plays with you as you watch it… Is it going to be a “Long Haired Ghost” story? Is it really a taut psychological examination of the pressures put on vulnerable students and the terrible ends it can drive them to in the pursuit of perfection? Then again it could be a modern revenge/slasher flick ala “Saw” or those Western Horror films like it. Turns out it’s all three……
Our heroine is Ina (played by Korean pop star Nam Gyu-ri) a popular female student, regarded by most as a loyal friend and well liked by all her classmates. When the horrors engulf them, she realizes that the students are all being killed in the order of their class ranking. Worse still, she knows her time is coming as she is ranked fifth in her class. Despite this, she tries to unravel the motives and identity of the murderer before more of her friends, especially her best friend, Myeong-hyo (played by Han Na-yeon), are killed.
Kang Hyun (played by Kim Beom) is Ina’s would-be boyfriend,the class clown and all around provocateur. He attends the special Holiday class merely to be near her. Unlike the other students who are completely overcome with terror, Kang remains cool; and this, coupled with his talents at computers, video and technical skills, may be the only way for the students to survive the cruel threat against them.
Add two teachers with differing ideas about handling their gifted, but often undisciplined students, (played by popular actor Lee Beom-soo and actress Yoon Jeong-hee) and a lone security guard/ groundskeeper (played by Lee Eol) and you have the elements necessary for that sort of claustrophobic terror that rules the plot here.
This one is unrelentingly bloody and vicious. A lot of reviewers seem to think almost shockingly so. For a Korean film, the violence didn’t seem that extreme to me…. and your Favorite Catgirl Reviewer has seen plenty. I found the earlier “Black House” to be far more graphic and bloody than “Gosa”. While not really a fan of the genre that has been dubbed “torture porn” by many, “Gosa” pulls off the horror with skill and style as opposed to those films that try to wield their shocks and scares with all the subtlety and finesse of a sledgehammer.
I wish I could say all was good in this one but eventually, the story does peter out, unfortunately. You, like Neko, will figure out who the killer is and why they are out for such extreme revenge about two thirds of the way through. Does that mean the film is a failure? Not really. As a parable about the Korean educational system and the extremes to which it has pushed the people all connected to it, it works and works well. There is a price to be paid for such singleminded pursuit of excellence merely for pursuits sake…. and it’s one that often than not takes a terrible toll on those who push themselves too far.
Neko gives “Gosa” 4 well deserved “Meows” out of 5 for doing the job a horror film is suppossed to do…. scare the bejeebits out of the audience. This one certainly does that and does it well. The Region 3 NTSC special edition 2 disc DVD is, as always, excellent, if a bit pricey at 29$ US. Only the film itself is subtitled into english, but the discs are top notch as always.
So… until next time, “Meow, Meow, for now!!”
And…. there’s a Trailer… of course!! (There’s always a Trailer…… Hehehehe!!!)