Now that I’m feeling a bit more frisky after last week’s bout with the stomach flu, it’s finally time for another review, and this time out it’s 2011’s Korean Ghost story, “Ghastly”, recently released on the Korean Region 3 disc. Originally listed most places as being without subtitles… **GASP!!**… I was lucky enough to find out this was wrong. It does indeed come with the usual perfect English subtitles I expect with a Korean release. Yay!! The rest? Well… Neko’s not gonna miss herself an Asian Ghost story…. no way.
Our synopsis? Try this out: “Ghastly” begins when Ka-hee (Hwang Ji-hyeon), an emotionally and psychologically damaged woman, finds a spirit medium to help her address her troubles. Her inability to give birth to a child had long tortured her, and now she will do anything to cheat that fate.
She ends up burying an orphan in a large traditional pot used to bury kimchi underground during the winter and killing him. What she gains for this merciless act is a child of her own. Ka-hee eventually gives birth to a son she names Bin, but Ka-hee soon meets a brutal death at the hands of the vengeful spirit of the murdered child.
Soon after the tragedy, Bin’s aunt Seo-Ni (Han Eun-jeong) and her husband Jang-hwan (Park Seong-min) come to live with the now orphaned Bin in his home, which is haunted and where the pot still is. Bin also starts to reveal his violent side. Is he the innocent child he seems? Or is he merely the vessel for a supernatural Grudge that lasts beyond death itself?”
Ghosts are always scary… and you know this wee Catgirl likes her Ghost stories. I do…. I really, really do!! So, with my lil’ fingers crossed for luck, I’m hoping the Koreans score well here and give me all the chills I’ve been wanting in a ghost story but somehow haven’t quite been able to find lately. Think maybe it might be the sort of eerie story you might like? Why then just “Read On” and we’ll find out together, shall we? 🙂
As our movie gets underway, we go right into the gory business that’s afoot…. Literally. A little boy called Bin (played by Lee Hyung Suk) moves through his darkened house… drawn by the sound of rhythmic pounding noises… only to discover his mother has dismembered his father with a large… sharp… kitchen knife. One of those reeeaally big ones…. you know, the kind you might need to butcher a bull moose. Worse… she’s not done yet, and he finally finds her in the living room… awash with blood in the grisly process of hacking off her own feet at the ankles. Brrrr!! It’s bloody, gory and sets the tone for this film with it’s decidedly “Meat Grinder” approach to the problem of female infertility problems.
Infertility problems? Yep… that’s basically what this one is all about. Well…. that and how evil ritual shamanism can fix it of course…. Although we generally follow the main character of Bin’s aunt Seo-Ni (played by Han Eun-jeong) and her own family throughout the story, the theme of Shamanism and spirit possession and it’s tragic results for Bin’s original family is the real meat of the tale. Unfortunately, very little of that is seen herein… outside of that rather gruesome death scene and some fleeting flashback scenes thrown in at the climax of the tale.
That’s a shame too, given that promising start to our story. I’m sad to say though, that “Ghastly” really can’t make up it’s mind to actually tell that particular story instead settling for just going for those shocks in a somewhat half-hearted way. Rather than plunging forward and grabbing the viewer with a taut suspenseful plot and wild bloody murders, oftentimes it sets up a situation only to shy away at the last moment, leaving the viewer to merely assume something nasty has happened instead of actually showing the mayhem. It’s strange, especially given that Korean cinema has never struck this lil’ Catgirl as being afraid of unleashing the bloodiest of elements in a film if it served the overall goal of invoking horror and revulsion when needed.
Other troubling plot bits bothered me as well. Not the least of which is Seo-Ni’s family themselves…. they just aren’t appealing as a family group. Her younger sister Yoo-rin (played by Korean pop star Hyomin of singing group T-ara) is basically a spoiled and clinging little parasite. She wants her sister’s complete attention at all times and basically expects to be financially supported by her sister and her Brother-in-law while she attends college and lives a useless life as a snobby little bitch partying the nights away with her friends. I kept wanting her to die…. just to shut her up. Mind you…. Seo-Ni’s husband Jang-hwan (played by Park Seong-min) is not much better. He’s a worthless provider who has apparently quite the history of bad investments, squandering his money on worthless “get rich quick” schemes. His latest one is the very reason he’s been forced to move his family into this house… the scene of horrific carnage and death… to take responsibility for his nephew. Ahhhh…. and despite having Seo-Ni as a loving and very sexy wife willing to put up with all his failings, he has this perverted fixation on sexy lil’ sis Yoo-rin that you just know he’d act on if given even half the chance. Throw in one possessed killer little boy and you’ve got a recipe for disaster….. and the problem is you won’t get too darn worked up as our lil’ family is torn apart. I’ve said it before… and I’ll say it again… a movie like this needs some character you can actually sympathize with and care about else wise there’s really no threat to invoke a feeling of horror and dread in a viewer. Just guilty satisfaction as the annoying people get what they probably deserve……
I would also have liked if more of the elements of Shamanism had been explained…. I’m kooky for such folklore, and just knowing how the idea of burying someone in a big ol’ clay pot is supposed to fix a barren woman’s fertility problem would have probably made my whole experience. I mean… is the boy a sacrifice? If so… to who… or what? Or…. is his spirit somehow controlled by the shaman and forced to seek “rebirth” through the vessel of the shaman’s choice? We never do find out… and that sort of annoyed me too.
Worst of all though, has to be the lackluster efforts of Korean Law enforcement to make any attempt to solve the gruesome crime that started this whole thing off. Only one policeman shows any initiative at all, and that’s young Detective Cheol-Woong (played by No Min-Woo). He knows something is wrong…. he suspects the boy Bin, but his first attempt at questioning the boy ends with his disappearance. Do his fellow cops even notice? Nope. Say what? I’m not kidding. He goes missing until his tortured, crippled body is discovered by Seo-Ni in the last 15 minutes or so of this one. But don’t worry…. the police aren’t the only people to make you shake your head in disbelief here. At one point… possessed Bin murders a fellow bullying classmate by shoving a pencil through his throat…. in full view of an entire class of witnesses… and the punishment for it seems to be merely getting sent home that day with a note for his parents!! Yes… unbelievably, he is never questioned by the police for this… never sent to the school shrink…. not even suspended from school. They don’t even “re-evaluate” what happened to his mom and dad. Even goofier… when he returns to class, he gets stalked by a friend of the murdered boy, lures him to an abandoned ruin and kills him too. Does anybody figure the disappearance of that boy just might be connected to…. oh say… the recent brutal murder of his fellow classmate? Nawwwww… It’s clearly stupid lapses in basic common sense here in the plot that make “Ghastly” fail in the end as a coherent story.
Given all of this, and despite some striking imagery and a decidedly nasty yet creepy fixation on severing people’s feet, I still have to give “Ghastly” only 2 “Meows” out of 5. It tries really hard…. and it wants to be a good lil thriller, but it isn’t. There’s just too darn much wrong with it to really say it’s worth a look except by those of you out there as nutty for Asian horror as I am. The Korean DVD is top-notch as always… letter-boxed and with perfect English subtitles…. but a bit spartan, having no Trailers or extra features on it at all. Given the rather pricey nature of Korean DVD’s… that’s a shame, and definitely weighs against a purchase. I’d say wait for it to get to HK if you want to see it where it will be priced much nicer for those of you movie fans on a budget.
As always…. There’s a Trailer… naturally, and here it is!