This time out your Favorite Catgirl Movie Reviewer is off to Korea for another slice of atmospheric Asian flavored horror, “Yoga”. Creepy goings on in an evil ashram, where the quest for physical perfection takes a terrible, terrible wrong turn are the theme of the day. Seems we’re in for another look at the problems of Asian women and their self-image issues with the customary horror twist that the Koreans love to add.
The synopsis goes like this: “Successful at her job until she was out shined by a younger, prettier co-worker, a confident and perfectionist career woman, Hyo-jung, visits a strange yoga institute run by a mysterious ex-actress at the advice of a radically transformed school friend. There, Hyo-jung meets several other women like herself, a former popular singer who faded away into obscurity, a religious fanatic, a girl battling weight issues, and a woman beset by numerous personal misfortunes including a divorce and a failed plastic surgery procedure. All of them have something in common: a belief that somehow beauty will help them overcome the difficulties they face. At the beginning of the intensive training course, a young yoga master, Nani explains to Hyo-jung and the others that only the one person who masters the course most successfully can actually win the secret of ultimate and immortal beauty. There are five unusual rules for them to follow during the one week course:
#1. Never eat without permission.
#2. Never take showers within an hour before or after the class.
#3. Never look at themselves in a mirror.
#4. Never leave the school building.
#5. Never try to call or contact anyone until finishing the course.
As the training goes on, they soon discover that the quest for beauty, has a terrible price.Each of the girls get tempted to break those rules caused by each woman’s secret hidden craving and Hyo-jung starts to sense there is something evil about this institute and the actress who doesn’t get old…”
Neko wonders what exactly there is in the Asian psyche that makes such horror films so prevalent of late. But… no matter. I just plain like watching them as I squirm uncomfortably on the couch. Naturally, you all want to know what this one is exactly all about, so let’s get to it….
We start out this one with an introduction to our main character, Hyo-Jung (played by Eugene of the Korean pop group S.E.S.), who is a veteran spokeswoman for a shopping network who loses her lead role on air to a younger, prettier girl who’s assets allow her to outsell her rival as they hawk their stuff. Frantic and grasping at any chance to restore her fading appeal, she encounters an old school friend, once a dowdy nobody whom even Hyo-Jung eventually cruelly abandoned, but who now has transformed herself somehow into a mysteriously beautiful woman. Hyo-Jung is stunned by her new look and begs to learn her secret. (Given how terribly she treated her friend all those years ago, I can’t believe she had the nerve to seek her help now… but I guess that’s to show the sheer pinnacle of desperation Hyo-Jung had reached.) Turns out it’s all due to a “special” invitation only Yoga Class sponsored by a famous actress, now retired and doing her best Greta Garbo imitation in seclusion. Since her career seems doomed and she’s gotten all cranky with her boyfriend, it seems she’s got nothing to lose by giving the class a try….. Silly, silly girl…..
Upon arriving at the school, she manages to bluff her way past her interview by the school’s Head Instructor and actually get accepted for the week long intensive class. Her fellow students all seem to share the same problem….. they can’t seem to shake the idea that “youth and beauty” are the solutions to all life’s worries. We get the gamut of problems from plastic surgery addiction to eating disorders and the pressures of celebrity image expectations. Many other Korean films have gone this route preying upon what seems to be a common obsession for Asian women, most notably for this lil’ Catgirl, 2006’s “Cinderella” (신데렐라), with it’s take on the whole “plastic surgery mania” as the path to perfection. We really don’t get any new ideas… and much of the story here follows the pretty standard route as each of the women is tempted by her particular flaw to violate the crazy rules of the ashram resulting in their grisly death or disappearance one by one.
None of these deaths is all that remarkable or scary… and unfortunately none of the characters…. Hyo-Jung included… were terribly sympathetic for me. I found myself caring very little for whether or not any of them would survive to be the one to gain the mystical gift of the “kundalini” from the possibly evil actress pulling the strings from behind the scenes. There are one or two good moments… one in particular involving a hallucinatory and impossibly contortionist yoga move, and another where the real contents of a binge eater’s meal are revealed that were shocking or startling in their imagery. Yet you can’t really build a whole movie on one or two neat images or ideas….
More appealing for this lil’ Catgirl was the story they didn’t explain…. (at least not enough for me to really figure it out…) and that’s told in the flashbacks that explain the tragic fall of that once famous actress, now our mysterious recluse and owner of the Yoga Academy. Mirroring the silent movie stars of the 1920’s and their struggle to cope with the introduction of sound to films, we get a look at the problems Chungmuro starlets of Korea’s film industry of the 1970s faced when many were similarly affected once live recording was first introduced to Korean movies. Here the 70’s period story is lush and quite dreamlike… and just when things get interesting, they fail to follow through and connect the story to any of what’s currently happening. Yep… we never do find out what Yoga has to do with… well… anything that’s going on in the story and why our failed actress ever turned to it in the first place. Say what? Nope…. I’m not kidding. This seems a glaring hole in the plot, and I’m wondering why it wasn’t more adequately addressed by the script.
So… does Hyo-Jung survive? Does she get to achieve “kundalini”? Is “inner beauty” really the path to solve all of life’s problems? Do we even care? Unfortunately…. the answer for this lil’ Catgirl is no. Although adequately filmed, acted, and filled with atmosphere, I’m afraid I can only give “Yoga” a barely acceptable 3 “Meows” out of 5. Carolyn liked it a bit more than I did, as it was a bit of a novelty for her, but your Favorite Catgirl’s just seen this stuff all before… and much better done too. Ah well… they can’t all be winners….
Hopefully next time out the Koreans will surprise me with a return to the type of nifty horror I usually enjoy. Till then, “Meow, meow for now….”
Trailer? Yep…. I’d never… ever…. forget that! Here ya go!