2015 has finally faded into 2016 and although I had another week with little to no ambition to speak of, your Favorite Catgirl is finally back at things again here at the ol’ Litterbox. So I thought we might try to start this whole brand spankin’ new year off with a review of a DVD that’s been sitting in my ‘To Watch” pile for quite a while now. 2014’s Korean Suspense/ thriller “Manhole” aka “Maenhol”.
Our synopsis rolls like this: “Su-cheol is a serial killer who uses the city sewers down a manhole as his secret hideout. Late one night, a young deaf girl witnesses one of Su-cheol’s murders and he abducts her. Later, her older sister, Yeon-seo, determined to find her dear lost sister, discovers the manhole and goes down to find her. As Su-cheol’s blazing madness explodes due to the uninvited guests in his manhole, the two sisters stand against him in desperate attempts to escape out. “
Ummm? A crazy Serial Killer roaming the sewers of Seoul, popping up randomly and abducting and killing young women? Yeah…. just the sort of movie that normally your Favorite Catgirl finds tooooo darn close to reality for comfort. Definitely explains why this 2014 film’s been languishing in my “To Watch” pile for all this time. It might probably still be there if my sweet Carolyn hadn’t decided we needed to bring “some of your foreign movies for the family to watch” over our Holiday visit to Sandra’s. She volunteered to pick them out this year… which sorta surprised me since most of them aren’t in slipcases with any English words on them and Carolyn usually finds that terribly daunting. What they do always have is a plethora of vividly scary pictures plastered all over them and so, with one look at the cover of this one, it went right into our overnight bag.
So…. Was it a hidden gem that yours truly had been letting slip away? Or a lame excuse for “torture porn” at it’s worst that my “Magical Kitten’s Secret Intuition” had been warning me about all along? Guess the only way to find out, o’ Gentle Visitor, is for you to “Read On” and find out. 😉
Family Movie Night… one of Carolyn and my personal favorite additions to a visit with the family every time we visit for any length of time. It’s fun and so satisfying to be able to share one of my favorite passions with all my dear new family. The kids especially seem to get a real kick out of the glimpse of all the exotic movies they’ve never dreamed ever existed. I’m come to understand it’s one of the things that makes Aunt Miyuki “so darn cool”… something that always brings a smile to my face when I hear them say it. 😉
This year my sweet Carolyn decided she wanted to be the one to pick out our video goodies from my vast pile, and instead of taking one or two of the ones we’ve already watched, delved full force into my box of unopened DVD’s to grab something we’d all get to see for the first time. Somewhat surprising, since most of the slipcovers for my foreign movie goodies are usually a wee bit shy on English language elements to help her along in deciding exactly what the heck the film might be about. Thankfully, now that the kids are older, pretty much any of my films are OK for “General Family Viewing” fun… if you are somewhat open minded that is…. 😉 (Who am I kidding? Most of my films are the cinematic equivalent of junk food… tasty and fun, but oh, so bad for you…. Ahhh well… Sandra’s a good sport… )
As I had expected, this particular one is more of a crime thriller than a true horror movie, and a fairly tame one at that, so in the end it turned out to be a pretty good blind choice on Carolyn’s part.
So what’s this one all about then? Well, we get two stories here for the price of one really… our first one involves ex-cop Kim Jong-ho (played by Choi Deok-moon). He’s now a taxi driver, and it’s his daughter Kim Song-yi’s (played by Lee Young-yoo) kidnapping by our crazed sewer dwelling maniac that gets the ball rolling. Apparently despite the rash of disappearances of young women all over this one neighborhood in Seoul, the police are pretty clueless and fairly incompetent about doing… well… pretty much anything resembling a real investigation let alone finding any of the missing girls. This naturally makes Jong-ho absolutely desperate to find her himself with or without the help of his former colleagues on the force. Eventually, he manages to do what none of the real cops seem willing to do, and that’s to think outside the box, and finally figure out that the maniac is using a specific manhole as a door to his lair hidden somewhere in the maze of tunnels and drains beneath the streets. So… he can tell all this to the police and they’ll catch the guy, right? Ahhhh…. no. The police are so unwilling to actually listen to anybody… even an ex-cop… to actually do anything useful. Doesn’t help that the Police Commissioner himself even seems determined to just sweep any new clues or evidence under the rug just to make it “go away” or something. What an a-hole…. So, with no one listening to him, Jong-ho descends into the booby trapped sewers alone to try desperately to find his little girl before it’s too late.
Meanwhile… our other story gets going too. That would involve the kidnapping of yet another girl, Soo-jung (played by Kim Sae-ron), the 14 year old deaf younger sister of our film’s main heroine Yeon-seo (played by Jung Yu-mi). Yeon-seo witnesses the abduction of her little sister and blindly follows our crazy psycho Soo-chul (played by Jung Kyung-ho) hoping to be able to free her before something terrible happens.
This is where pretty much the “meat-and-potatoes” of our film lies. Most of our story involves both Yeon-seo and Jong-ho creeping about the dark sewers trying to find their loved ones… all the while dodging both the killer, his fiendish deathtraps, and each other mistakenly as the nasty stuff happens.
That would be the suspenseful part. Mostly this is some pretty nice edge of your seat suspense storytelling with some nasty gore thrown in for seasoning now and again. Eventually poor Jong-ho discovers he’s too late to save his daughter… killed and then dumped into a pit with all Soo-chul’s earlier victims. After that, his story turns to one of anguish and revenge, while Yeon-seo is valiantly trying to link up with Soo-jung after the girl manages to slip away from her abductor into the maze of tunnels searching for a way to escape.
That leads to a fairly standard cat and mouse game of hide and seek, between our two frightened sisters and a maniac who knows these tunnels like the back of his hand. Oh…. and naturally, he’s got those same tunnels rigged with hidden cameras, deadly traps, and can control the lights to allow himself the option of creeping about with his snazzy night vision goggles, the ultimate predator in this labyrinthine prison beneath Seoul.
Now, for the most part, this is all pretty darn scary and really suspenseful. Mind you… there are a few glaring moments of utter plot stupidity to ruin the fun. One main one? Well… at one point, while separated by a locked grate our heroine tries to get her fleeing sister’s attention by yelling loudly and waving her hands revealing her location to our killer. Yelling? Yep… while completely out of sight… at her completely deaf sister. The one who she well knows has been deaf for years. Yeah… like that was gonna work. That was silly… even the kids picked up on that particular bit of plot foolishness. At least we got a good laugh out of it.
Hmmmm? What else? Ahhhh…. yes… the crucial clue about the missing motorcycle cop killed early on by our psycho. He goes missing right next to that manhole our killer uses as his only entrance and exit to his lair. There’s a convenient traffic camera focused right on the spot…. which our psycho has tapped into of course to keep tabs on his front door. Naturally, he can turn it off too, all the better to keep his comings and going secret, but despite a policeman going missing, nobody seems to notice! Only Jong-ho puts two and two together enough figure out it’s significance, even though three other victims… one of them a sewer worker… all disappear from practically that exact same spot. Not exactly a shining endorsement for South Korean police work….
Ah well… I don’t usually watch these films for their amazing common sense plots or stellar continuity. Good thing, ’cause this one certainly needed more than a wee bit of suspension of disbelief to make it all work.
So? Do both our ex-cop hero and our stalwart heroine manage to team up in time to whack our crazy killer and save the poor little deaf girl from a fate worse than death? Yeah, yeah… you know that’s pretty much a given. Not without terrible cost of course… it’s an Asian film after all. And yes… even though our crazy villain seems to meet a terrible flaming death at the climax, it’s a given that his smoking carcass will somehow manage to rouse it’s medium rare self from the clutches of the Grim Reaper and slip off into the sewers just in case there’s enough money to be made for a sequel. 🙂
All in all, this one ended up being merely an acceptable exercise in suspense with far less gore than this wee lady’s been worried about seeing ever since I bought it. I usually don’t watch movies with psycho killers, but once in a while… especially if they are goofy and over-the-top enough, I get a guilty thrill out of seeing such hijinx. This one fell pretty much right in that vein. Not good… but not really bad either. For Family Film Night, it was a pretty good choice.
Now… from this wee Catgirl’s perspective, it rates at about 3 “Meows” out of 5. It’s a standard Korean film done to their usual high standards, with competent directing and cinematography. The acting was good, although I must confess nobody was really outstanding herein. Not surprising given the stereotypical characterizations in the script. I’d say if Korean film is your thing, it’s probably worth a look, but if you are expecting a lot of horror or gore, you’ll be disappointed mostly. But… hey… the family all liked it, so Aunt Miyuki’s tile as “cool Aunt” still stands…. and that’s worth oodles. 😉
The Korean DVD was excellent as always, although at 29$ US, is definitely pricey for a film I’ll probably only watch this one. If you are on the fence about watching it, I’d probably wait, you won’t really be missing a whole lot, trust me. So. That’s pretty much that, I guess.
Trailer? Oh my, yes… can’t forget that now can we? 😉