The Geisha of Gore’s BEST FILMS VIEWED IN 2014

THE GEISHA OF GORE’S BEST FILMS VIEWED IN 2014
By Colleen Wanglund, “The Geisha of Gore”

I generally don’t go to see new movies in the theaters. Even when I see new Asian films, their release date is usually from the prior year and are just being seen in the United States for the first time. Although once in a rare while I do get to see a new release that I really enjoy. So here is my list of the best twelve films I was able to see for the first time in 2014, in no particular order.

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THE RAID 2: BERANDAL (2014)

I have always been wary of sequels—ALWAYS. They almost never live up to the original film and I invariably end up disappointed. Not with this one. THE RAID 2, directed by Gareth Evans, picks up where the original left off, with Rama (Iko Uwais) working undercover for the special police unit to take down a major gang. The fight scenes are just as epic as in the original, and Hammer Girl was an awesome addition to the cast. It had some tedious moments but overall I really enjoyed it and surprisingly, I find myself looking forward to the third film in the series.

The_Embryo_Hunts_In_Secret_(French) colleen wanglund's best movies of 2014 The Geisha of Gore's BEST FILMS VIEWED IN 2014 The Embryo Hunts In Secret FrenchTHE EMBRYO HUNTS IN SECRET (1966)

Directed by the Godfather of Pink Films, Koji Wakamatsu, this movie is about an emasculated man with an Oedipus complex determined to torture a woman into being the perfect wife. It’s brutal at times and quite claustrophobic giving it a very tense atmosphere, and a statement about the expected roles of men and women in 1960s Japan. This was the first film that Wakamatsu completely financed and the first released by Wakamatsu Productions, which he formed after leaving Nikkatsu Studios. This is a must-see for fans of exploitation films.

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WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? (2013)

Sion Sono is one of my favorite directors and I was not disappointed with this film. A wannabe film crew find themselves in the middle of a yakuza war and decides to make a movie out of it. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, right down to the very bloody and masterfully choreographed final scenes, even though there were some tedious moments. Not one of Sono’s best but still a great film with all of his typical surrealism.

GOTG-poster colleen wanglund's best movies of 2014 The Geisha of Gore's BEST FILMS VIEWED IN 2014 GOTG posterGUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

I know, it’s not an Asian film. But it doesn’t matter. The Geisha absolutely LOVED this movie! I think many comic book film adaptations are overrated and formulaic, but not this one. The acting was great, the directing was great, and the soundtrack was brilliant. Chris Pratt has secured his place as an endearing leading man with this film, moving on successfully from a very funny run on the sitcom PARKS AND RECREATION. Who doesn’t want to see a bunch of misfit outcasts make good?

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UNFORGIVEN (2013)

Directed by Lee Sang-il and starring Ken Watanabe, this is a remake of the Clint Eastwood 1992 Western, set in Japan’s Meiji period (1868-1912), when Japan’s Tokugawa Shogunate collapsed and the new government hunted down and slaughtered the remaining samurai after the wars. Watanabe’s acting is superb and the cinematography alone is worth the price of admission. While I usually despise remakes, this one works well because Lee is able to completely transform the story from one cultural context to another with little effort.

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I was able to see this one on the big screen in all its scratchy 35mm glory at the Japan Society, and it was well worth the two hour trip into Manhattan. 2014 was the first time the film had ever been screened in the United States. Another First Wave pink film for Japan, this one is about a private detective/hit man hired to rescue a man’s girlfriend from a ruthless gang. The film takes a bizarre turn and ultimately nothing is what it seems. The film was written and directed by Atsushi Yamatoya, who would write many pink films, but would only direct a handful. It has gone under other titles including DUTCH WIFE OF THE DESERT, but as a First Wave Japanese pink film, it’s another must-see.

Soul-2013-1 colleen wanglund's best movies of 2014 The Geisha of Gore's BEST FILMS VIEWED IN 2014 Soul 2013 1SOUL (2013)

This psychological thriller/horror film from Taiwan stars Jimmy Wang Yu (MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE, 1976) as a man whose son returns home possessed by a demon. It is unsettling and heartbreaking at the same time, and beautifully directed by Chung Mong-hong. Family secrets are revealed and family bonds severely tested. The horror aspects are subtle but gruesome and satisfying.

misszombie colleen wanglund's best movies of 2014 The Geisha of Gore's BEST FILMS VIEWED IN 2014 misszombie1MISS ZOMBIE (2013)

Set in a future Japan where zombies exist, but not in an apocalyptic way, this horror film directed by cult filmmaker Sabu gives us a unique take on zombies. The zombies are able to be trained as domestic servants and “cured” of their craving for flesh. A female zombie brought to work for a family is horribly abused by other workers but she still retains some memory of her former life. It is a heartbreaking and bleak story in which the zombie and her boss’s wife have far more in common than anyone realizes.

Rigor-Mortis-2013-Movie-Poster colleen wanglund's best movies of 2014 The Geisha of Gore's BEST FILMS VIEWED IN 2014 Rigor Mortis 2013 Movie Poster1RIGOR MORTIS (2013)

This is a horror film that pays tribute to the Japanese horror comedy series MR. VAMPIRE (1985-1992), though the comedy in RIGOR MORTIS is heavily downplayed. The film is about a washed up actor who is the only salvation for a haunted housing complex, where he actually went to kill himself. Many of the cast are from the original series and Chin Siu-ho plays himself as the suicidal, ghost-seeing actor. It’s a great film with some fantastic fight sequences.

crossroads1928 colleen wanglund's best movies of 2014 The Geisha of Gore's BEST FILMS VIEWED IN 2014 crossroads1928CROSSROADS (1928)

This is a silent film that tells the story of a brother and sister living in the slums of Tokyo during the time of the samurai and they have no one but each other. The brother, Rikiya, thinks he committed murder and begins a downward spiral into madness, while his sister Okiku tries desperately to help him. Director Teinosuke Kinugasa paints a vivid picture of class distinction and, even though it is a period piece, there isn’t a single sword fight. It’s a beautiful film heavily influenced by German expressionism.

The-Dance-of-Reality-Poster-1000W colleen wanglund's best movies of 2014 The Geisha of Gore's BEST FILMS VIEWED IN 2014 The Dance of Reality Poster 1000WDANCE OF REALITY (2013)

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s return to filmmaking after over twenty years was something I eagerly anticipated. I’ve been a huge fan since a friend of mine took me to a midnight screening of THE HOLY MOUNTAIN years ago and, waiting in line hoping to get a ticket at MOMA was well-worth it, especially since Jodorowsky was there and did an amazing Q&A for about an hour after the film. DANCE OF REALITY is a quasi-autobiographical film about Jodorowsky’s childhood in Chile with a communist father and a mother who was a former opera singer. In fact, she sings all of her lines. The film is tamer than his previous body of work and a good place to start if you’ve never seen a Jodorowsky film before.

jodorowskysdune-poster01 colleen wanglund's best movies of 2014 The Geisha of Gore's BEST FILMS VIEWED IN 2014 jodorowskysdune poster01JODOROWSKY’S DUNE (2013)

This documentary delves into what would have been, had Jodorowsky been able to fund his vision of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Massive books full of storyboards (including art by H.R. Giger), music by Pink Floyd, and a complete script still exist of the doomed film (I would probably kill to own just one of the books), that were sent to every studio at the time. It was fascinating to see just how many films this never-made movie influenced, with the original team assembled by Jodorowsky (Giger, Dan O’Bannon, Chris Foss, and Jean Giraud) moving on to eventually work on ALIEN (1979).

© Copyright 2015 by Colleen Wanglund

The Geisha of Gore review of EBOLA SYNDROME (1996)

EBOLA SYNDROME (1996)
A “Geisha of Gore” Review by Colleen Wanglund

Ebola Syndrome (HK VCD) review of ebola syndrome 1996 movie The Geisha of Gore review of EBOLA SYNDROME (1996) Ebola Syndrome HK VCDWritten by Ting Chau and directed by Herman Yau (THE LEGEND IS BORN: IP MAN, 2010), EBOLA SYNDROME (1996) is a Category III exploitation film from Hong Kong. Category III is a rating given to films classified by the Hong Kong government for “adults only” and includes porn, though many are more the equivalent of an “R” rating in America.

The movie stars Anthony Chau-Sang Wong (INFERNAL AFFAIRS, 2002) as Kai, a man who sadistically murdered three people in Hong Kong and then fled to South Africa. He’s spent the last ten years slaving away in a Chinese restaurant for low wages, while on the run from the law. While out in the Bush looking to buy pigs from a local Zulu tribe with his abusive boss, Kai rapes and kills a woman who is infected with Ebola, and he becomes infected. Kai gets sick and a doctor tells the boss he could be the one in ten million that becomes a carrier. The boss’s wife wants Kai out—she actually wants to dump him somewhere to die. Kai attacks the boss’ wife, raping and killing her, and kills his boss when he comes back to the restaurant. He turns them into ground meat, making hamburgers that are then served to the restaurant’s patrons. And yes, the meat is tainted with Ebola.

Meanwhile, the lone survivor of the murders Kai committed back in Hong Kong, Lily, a little girl who ten years later is on her honeymoon in South Africa, has found Kai by way of his particular scent. She goes to the cops, but they can do nothing because she has no solid proof. Kai steals all of the restaurant’s money and leaves the country, heading back to Hong Kong. Once back, he seeks out an old girlfriend and he manages to infect at least eight people. Police in South Africa have discovered Kai’s crimes and his connection to the Ebola outbreak, and contact the Hong Kong police, who are now on his trail. They finally catch up to him, but Kai isn’t going down without a fight.

I’ve seen many exploitation films and can safely say EBOLA SYNDROME is a bit of a mess. One of the few bright spots is Wong’s performance as Kai. The man is a complete asshole. He’s obsessed with sex and he’ll get it any way he can. It was sex with his boss’s wife that led to the original murders in Hong Kong and then he raped and murdered a woman which got him infected with Ebola. He doesn’t give a damn about anyone. No moral code whatsoever. One scene sees him using a piece of raw meat as a substitute vagina while he listens to his boss have sex with his wife. He then puts the meat back into the refrigerator when he’s done with it! Kai is ruthless, self-centered, and downright nasty. Wong very effectively gets across that Kai is this bad, evil guy, and you can’t help but hate him and hope he gets what he deserves.

Lily, now ten years older, is identified to the viewer through a nightmare she has about what she witnessed as a child after encountering Kai in the Chinese restaurant. And the opening sequence of murder is quite sudden and brutal. The girl was doused with gasoline and almost set on fire but someone walked into the apartment and saved her. When she first encounters Kai in the restaurant in South Africa, he’s carrying a dead pig, but she still managed to recognize his smell so strongly that she got sick and had to leave. She swears that she knows it’s him because of his odor. I don’t buy this at all. She knew who murdered her family. She watched it happen and knew who Kai was when he worked for her father. Why not just have Lily recognize his face? The odor thing is a dopey plot device, in my opinion. He probably didn’t wash regularly and he was carrying a dead pig. That would make for a rank odor around anyone.

It actually takes an hour before we see anything in the film to warrant its title. And it’s an hour and forty minutes long. The stuff about Ebola is so wrong it left me scratching my head. First the doctor tells Kai’s boss that Kai will suffer flu-like symptoms but recover fully, becoming a carrier. Um, no. That’s not medically possible. Next, when everyone who ate the human meat burgers suddenly gets sick all at the same time, they are fine one minute, and then they are suddenly collapsing to the ground with convulsions. That doesn’t really happen, either. I know the movie is from 1996, but Ebola has been around since 1976, so it’s pretty well documented what happens to a person who has been infected. They got the liquefying organs and bleeding out of every orifice from hemorrhagic fever correct (although it doesn’t happen to everyone who gets Ebola), and used it to full effect in the Special Effects department. I understand artistic license, but a Typhoid Mary of Ebola virus is just not possible in the way they used it here.

I would have been happy with Kai just being a twisted serial killer, serving unsuspecting restaurant patrons human meat. No need to muck it up with a disease that you couldn’t even get the facts correct on. The viciousness of the original murders during the movie’s opening establishes what a despicable and dangerous man Kai is. But while I liked the opening, as well as the scene where he’s turning human meat into hamburger, the rest of the movie was just too sloppy for me. Kai’s murderous rampages alone would have made for a much better film.

Anthony Chau-Sang Wong as Kai, a sadistic  murderer and carrier of EBOLA SYNDROME review of ebola syndrome 1996 movie The Geisha of Gore review of EBOLA SYNDROME (1996) Ebola Syndrome 3

Anthony Chau-Sang Wong as Kai, a sadistic murderer and carrier of EBOLA SYNDROME

I also wasn’t happy with the amount of dead animals in the movie. Dead pigs, dead frogs being mutilated for their legs, and chickens being sliced open and their blood sent flying around during some tribal death ritual. What can I say, I’m much more comfortable seeing people slaughtered than animals. It might be nit-picky, but it bothers me. And I was uncomfortable with the Zulu tribe being shown in a rather racist light. When the boss is negotiating a price for the pigs, the chief is shown as being stupid and unable to do simple math. And they kept their dead pigs next to the dead bodies infected with Ebola. In the heat of the African bush, why would the pigs be dead already? Shouldn’t they have been alive and slaughtered only after the boss bought them? Not everything in EBOLA SYNDROME makes sense, and that drove me crazy. It’s frustrating because it assumes the viewer is an idiot. I love movies that fall into the category so-bad-they’re-good, but EBOLA SYNDROME is just bad.

Some scenes dragged on for far too long, such as Kai and his boss just standing there watching the tribal ritual for the dead. I understand you want to have shots of the skin sores on the bodies and make absolutely sure the viewer knows they’re dead from Ebola, but it went on far too long. And many of the Zulus were just walking around, as though nothing bad was happening. The scene with the prostitutes Kai hires when he gets back to Hong Kong went on too long, as well. And it wasn’t for the sake of showing sex, which the movie has plenty of. It was too much stupid dialogue.

For a guy who directed a couple of IP MAN films, I was hugely disappointed in Herman Yau’s film. Yes, it probably had a low budget, and it is an exploitation film, but when you’re using a documented disease, at least make it believable. Don’t assume your viewers are idiots. Movie-goers don’t like that. I didn’t even like any of the characters to the point that I cared if they died or not. Except Kai. I wanted him to die. He was the only character I felt anything for.

I would tell you to skip EBOLA SYNDROME altogether, but I’m sure there are those of you who will like it. The over-the-top violence and gross special effects are very good, as is Wong’s performance. But the vile and disgusting images and brutality just weren’t enough for me. The attempt at black humor fell flat and the use of it to portray the Zulu tribe where the infection began was awkward. I found too much wrong with the movie to overlook. The Geisha does not recommend EBOLA SYNDROME.

© Copyright 2014 by Colleen Wanglund

The Geisha of Gore reviews UZUMAKI (2000)

A “Giesha of Gore” Review
UZUMAKI (2000)
By Colleen Wanglund

uzumaki review of uzumaki (2000) The Geisha of Gore reviews UZUMAKI (2000) uzumakiDirected by Higuchinsky (who only has two other feature films to his credit), UZUMAKI (2000) is based on the manga of the same name by Junji Ito. Ito also wrote the manga TOMIE that would later be adapted into a series of horror films from 1999 to 2011. The film’s English title is SPIRAL, though VORTEX is another translation.

The film stars Eriko Hatsune (APARTMENT 1303, 2007, NORWEGIAN WOOD, 2010) as Kirie Goshima, and Fhi Fan as Shuichi Saito, two teenagers living in the small, crumbling town of Kurozu-cho, which is sandwiched between the ocean and the hills. Shuichi’s father Toshio (Ren Ohsugi, who has also appeared in AUDITION, 1999 and SONATINE, 1993) becomes obsessed with spirals—collecting anything with spirals and even filming hours of a snail with a spiral shell. His wife, Yukie (Keiko Takahashi), throws out his collection, hoping to snap him out of whatever has gripped Toshio, but he tells her he doesn’t need any of his collection because the spirals are inside of him. Toshio then commits suicide using the family’s washing machine and, while his body is being cremated, his ashes form a spiral in the sky and land in Dragonfly Pond. Yukie sees his face in the ashes and is horrified. She then develops a phobia of spirals.

While in the hospital after her collapse at Toshio’s funeral, Yukie shaves her head and mutilates her fingers and toes to remove the spirals. This is followed by one of the most cringe-inducing scenes I’ve ever experienced, in which a giant millipede attempts to crawl into her ear. Yukie sees the ghost of her dead husband telling her that there is a spiral in her ear, specifically the cochlea, so she stabs herself in the head with a conveniently available pair of scissors. The same spiral of ashes happens when Yukie’s body is cremated and they also spiral into Dragonfly Pond in the center of town. Plenty of other weird things are going on in Kurozu-cho—a girl’s hair turns into spirals that eventually kill her by draining her life energy; people who only come out when it rains, covered in slime and then turn into giant snails; and when a boy is killed by a car, his body spirals around the car’s tire and axle. Eventually Kirie’s father becomes obsessed with spirals after using mud from Dragonfly Pond to create his pottery. It seems the entire town is cursed by the spiral.

uzumaki_4 review of uzumaki (2000) The Geisha of Gore reviews UZUMAKI (2000) uzumaki 4

What’s interesting about UZUMAKI is that production on the film had been completed before Ito actually finished writing the manga, so the endings are very different. Wait, I take that back. The film’s end isn’t so much different as it is completely ambiguous, which is standard for Asian horror films. While a lot of the main storyline from the first few chapters remains relatively intact in the film, there are stories in the manga that are barely touched on here. This by no means detracts from the film, however. UZUMAKI, the film, is a fantastic mix of horror and the bizarre, as is the manga. But the ambiguity of the film is what makes it so fun to watch. We never know why, exactly, the spirals are affecting everyone. There is no answer as to where this supposed curse came from (there isn’t much of one in the manga, either).

A reporter is introduced who does not appear in the manga and he provides some speculation to the origin of the spiral curse through the research we see him doing. It is an old curse that affects the town every few hundred years—maybe. Before he can meet with Kirie and Shuichi with what he has uncovered, he is killed in the same car accident that takes the life of Kirie’s classmate. We, and our main characters, are left with no answers. We experience the film’s story the same way they do, which gives this film its appeal. It is the ambiguity that lends UZUMAKI its creepiness. And it’s one hell of a creepy film. The curse does different things to different people. Some lose their minds, like Shuichi’s parents; some turn into giant snails; while others’ bodies are contorted into some form of spiral. And it’s all random. The spiral wants your attention; it appears everywhere and it hypnotizes you. That is a scary concept, and it is played up well in the film. This is accentuated by a quick but effective scene involving reporters that have come to cover the strange happenings in Kurozu-cho. As they drive through the tunnel out of town, the spiral curse stops them from leaving. No one can escape the curse, it seems.

There are attempts at comedy in UZUMAKI at a few points in the film, but instead of being funny, they’re actually disturbing, making for some squeamish moments, but wholly fitting with the rest of the film’s atmosphere. It builds slowly—but not too slowly—and gives us the sense that this spiral curse has been in effect for some time and escalating. The film is, at times, perplexing, but its mood is similar to a David Lynch film—disorienting but satisfying, nonetheless.

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The acting is very good and the characters are believable, especially both Toshio and Yukie as their minds deteriorate, but for different reasons. Kirie is the standard Japanese schoolgirl, but you really connect with her and hope she can escape the madness overtaking her town. The special effects are a bit lacking, but the movie didn’t have a large budget. I appreciate the lack of CGI (which I’m not the biggest fan of) and the sparse use of gore. UZUMAKI is all about atmosphere and the feeling of dread that it will surely illicit. If you can, read the manga. It’s available online for free. But I don’t feel it’s necessary in order to watch the film as, in my opinion, the film stands alone in its own right as a weird and scary story. It’s one of those films I can watch over and over again. It never fails to draw me in. Maybe it’s the curse of the spiral….

© Copyright 2014 by Colleen Wanglund

 

The Geisha of Gore Reviews BLACK NIGHT (2006)

BLACK NIGHT (2006)
Movie Review by Colleen Wanglund, The Geisha of Gore

DarkNight black night 2006 reviews The Geisha of Gore Reviews BLACK NIGHT (2006) DarkNight1

BLACK NIGHT (Hak yae,2006) is a horror anthology in which all three stories share the central themes of revenge and betrayal.

The first story, NEXT DOOR (Hong Kong), directed by Patrick Leung, sees Jane (Annie Liu), a self-centered musician returning home to her boyfriend, Joe (Dylan Kuo), after a three-month absence. Unbeknownst to Jane, Joe, a detective, has been in a relationship with his neighbor Hosie (Race Wong), and is rather surprised to see his on again/off again girlfriend. It just so happens to be the month of the ghost festival, and it isn’t long before Jane is visited by a ghostly woman dripping water everywhere. Not realizing she is a ghost, Jane goes to the neighbor’s and makes a shocking discovery—and a dangerous one. The ghost is angry about her sudden death and wants revenge—and she is targeting Jane and Joe, and they are now fighting for their lives.

DARK HOLE (Japan), directed by Takahiko Akiyama, follows Yuki (Asaka Seto), an attendant at an aquarium who has recurring nightmares. Those nightmares begin to take on physical form when she is haunted by the people close to her who have died. At the urging of her boyfriend Satoichi (Takashi Kashiwabara), Yuki goes to a psychiatrist, who discovers that Yuki has lost most of her childhood memories. Under hypnosis, Yuki tells Dr. Kawai (Tomorowo Taguchi) about Hyu, an imaginary friend who “was as big as mother”. Going back through newspaper articles, Dr. Kawai meets with Satoichi to discuss Yuki’s condition. He believes she has multiple personality disorder and killed a schoolboy who used to bully her, her domineering mother, and an aggressive ex-boyfriend. Yuki insists Hyu is very real, but can’t believe it is responsible—until she sees it with her own eyes.

LOST MEMORY (Thailand), directed by Thanit Jitnukul, is probably the best of the three. Prang (Pitchanart Sakakorn) is a young mother recovering from a car accident so bad she is suffering from amnesia. She is living alone with her young son, Sun (Athipan Chantapichai), and it seems she may have a stalker. Prang is visited and attacked by a ghost. The next day she visits a woman, Praew (Nutsha Bootsri), who it turns out was Prang’s best friend, but who is now dead. Slowly the pieces of Prang’s past come together, and what really happened the night of the car accident. And things are not what they seem.

All three shorts have very interesting premises and each has its strengths and weaknesses. NEXT DOOR is a pretty good story, and it has its creepy moments, but some scenes seemed a bit too comical and even a bit over-the-top for the overall tone. These scenes occur toward the end where Jane and Joe end up arguing over who should die to avenge the ghost’s death. The special effects should have been more subtle, to keep it creepy. The death of the ghost at first seems too bizarre to be true, but when you think about it, it’s plausible enough to work. And the fact that it is the ghost festival actually helps make it frightening. Character development is lacking here and it’s disappointing, because it lessens the believability of the climax. It’s a love triangle, but Joe and Jane are so shallow that we wonder why it matters, and why they are trying so hard to save each other in the end.

DARK HOLE starts off promising enough, but becomes a little too cliché for its own good. You realize fairly quickly that Hyu is in fact a real thing and Yuki does not have multiple personality disorder. And, of course, Hyu kills those that cause Yuki any distress. Her lack of memory keeps it interesting, but the end is predictable. This is another one where character development is seriously lacking. Yuki, Satoshi, and even Dr. Kawai, are all flat and one-dimensional, which makes for an uninteresting story. Why should we care about these people? And there is no real explanation as to why Yuki is being haunted or why it’s happening now when the deaths of the bully and her mother happened when she was still young. DARK HOLE is the weakest of the three shorts.

LOST MEMORY, in my opinion, is the best of the three stories in that it is able to keep you guessing until the truth is revealed. There is an instance where the viewer is told that there have been a series of child kidnappings—which I found unnecessary, but I’m guessing the director used it to stress how protective Prang is of her son, Sun. However, later on, when she goes to Praew’s condo, Prang has no problem leaving Sun to play by himself. Why would she leave the kid alone if someone is snatching children? Character development is much better in LOST MEMORY, as we understand Prang’s emotional roller coaster as well as the dynamic between Prang, Sun, Praew, and Prang’s estranged husband, Wit. Once the truth is exposed, it pulls things together, but the story gets somewhat confusing, as do some of the circumstances surrounding Prang’s accident. With some confusion being practically de rigueur in Asian horror films, it is still a satisfying ending.

What I found interesting is that all three stories involve water. The water can have a few meanings. The most obvious would be that in both NEXT DOOR and LOST MEMORY, the ghosts’ deaths occurred in water—a full bathtub and a pool, respectively—and in DARK HOLE, Hyu lives in the water and therefore death comes from the water. There are deeper meanings to water. Particularly in Japanese tradition, when someone dies their soul travels from this world to the next via a road—earliest writings depict this “road” as a river or stream. If someone dies suddenly or violently, with unfinished business, the soul may start the journey but is brought back, perhaps bringing the water with them and associating water with the appearance of the ghosts. Water, as one of the elements, represents the flow and fluidity of life and death and the connection that allows ghosts and spirits into this world in the first place. It’s an interesting concept, and one that fits with the appearance of the ghosts in all three shorts. What makes it a little different in DARK HOLE is that the creature Hyu lives in the water, and brings death through the water. Hyu’s water is in an abandoned warehouse, but the dead are found in a pond nearby. In this case the water is “tainted” and facilitates death, as well as representing flow and the return of ghosts or spirits.

As to the film’s themes of betrayal and revenge, they are obvious throughout all three stories. In NEXT DOOR, it is a complicated love triangle in which, on some level, everyone feels betrayed by one or the other, and, of course, the ghost feels this betrayal more acutely. LOST MEMORY also involves a love triangle and betrayal by everyone involved, and there is also a sense of betrayal on the part of the ghost—that you don’t see coming until the end. In DARK HOLE, Yuki feels betrayed by the bully, her mother, and the ex-boyfriend so her “pet” Hyu kills for her. It is linked to Yuki and her feelings, and lashes out for her. The revenge aspect is also obvious. The ghosts and Hyu are all seeking revenge—although I believe one ghost in LOST MEMORY is actually trying to warn Prang that something is not right. Prang doesn’t see it due to her amnesia. Revenge is a common reason for the appearance of ghosts in Asian horror. There is always unfinished business for those who died suddenly or violently.

I wish NEXT DOOR and DARK HOLE had each done a better job of creating good stories around these themes. It would have made for a better movie, overall. I don’t recommend buying this on DVD or Blu-ray, but it’s decent enough to give it a view on Netflix, which is what I did. You could even skip right through to LOST MEMORY. BLACK NIGHT isn’t a bad film, but I’ve seen much better.

 

© Copyright 2014 by Colleen Wanglund

The Geisha of Gore follows THE CHASER (2008)

THE CHASER (2008)
A “Geisha of Gore” Review
By Colleen Wanglund

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THE CHASER (2008, Korea) is a slow-burn thriller written and directed by Na Hong-jin. The film was his directorial debut, and the only other feature Na Hong-jin directed is THE YELLOW SEA (2010), another crime thriller.

THE CHASER stars Kim Yun-seok (THE YELLOW SEA, 2010, THE THIEVES, 2012) as Eom Joong-ho, a former dirty detective who is now a pimp. His girls have been taking advances and then disappearing, and he owes someone a lot of money. When Kim Mi-jin, played by Seo Yeong-hie (BEDEVILLED, 2010) goes missing, Joong-ho believes that his girls are being kidnapped and sold to other pimps. By sheer luck, while looking for the now-missing Mi-jin, he finds the customer who has been taking the girls. Their cars collide on a narrow street, and the police are called. Back at the station, Joong-ho calls his friend and former colleague Detective Lee (Jeong In-gi) for help. They discover rather quickly that the man responsible for the prostitutes’ disappearances, Je Yeong-min (Ha Jung-woo) may be the Mapo serial killer, responsible for the deaths of nine women and a still unsolved case.

Joong-ho still thinks the guy sold the missing prostitutes, and goes with a forensics specialist to Mi-jin’s apartment to collect evidence. While there, he finds Mi-jin’s seven-year-old daughter Eun-ji (played by the very talented Kim Yoo-jung). Joong-ho takes the girl with him on his search for her mother. He calls in his assistant Meathead (Koo Bon-woong) and has him go house to house with a set of keys that Joong-ho found in Yeong-min’s car, in the hopes of finding the killer’s lair and Mi-jin. During the long night Joong-ho makes trips to the police department to try and get some information out of Yeong-min, who is playing dumb, even after giving a confession. He finds out they are in a race against time because they have no physical evidence tying the young man to the crimes, so they might have to let him go. As night turns to day and Yeong-min is released on the order of the prosecutor, Joong-ho’s detective instincts kick in and he renews his search for Mi-jin in the same area where he found the killer.

THE CHASER is a well-paced crime thriller that is dark and intense. It was filmed on location in the Mangwon district of Seoul and the chases—and there are a few—take place on foot among steep labyrinthine streets which adds to the intensity of the film. THE CHASER has a noir-ish feel to it, with its gritty views of nighttime Seoul and its fervent but sympathetic anti-hero, Joong-ho.

The bulk of the film is a police procedural, with the local police seemingly ineffective and clumsy. A sequence early on, after the arrest of Joong-ho and Yeong-min following their traffic-blocking fender-bender, the police are fighting amongst each other over what to do with the potential serial killer, stressing their incompetence. When the detectives from headquarters show up to take over, their hands are tied because of lack of evidence and it’s just as frustrating for the viewer.

The pace of THE CHASER increases when we follow Joong-ho on his search for Mi-jin. When he finally realizes that his girls have not been sold and that Mi-jin is in real danger, Joong-ho transforms from mean-spirited to almost noble in his attempt to find the young woman, reunite her with her daughter, and hopefully catch a serial killer before the police are forced to set him free. There is a small side story involving the public embarrassment of the mayor of Seoul that hampers the investigation into the serial killings, and this leaves Joong-ho on his own, with only his assistant Meathead to help him out. Joong-ho steps up the pace when the prosecutor orders the release of Yeong-min and he is able to kill again while being followed by police. The final scenes of THE CHASER are well played out and rather violent, but satisfying, nonetheless.

Throughout the film, there is an unmistakable undercurrent of indifference, as displayed by the police, the prosecutor, and the mayor, even in his brief scenes. Even when Joong-ho goes to the other pimps in the area looking for other missing women and any connection to the serial killer, the pimps are just as indifferent as the police. This begs the question “What value do you place on human life, even one you judge to be unworthy?” Na Hong-jin also manages to keep the tension going throughout THE CHASER, and adds a nice build-up to the final scenes. For his first feature film, Na keeps things understated, while allowing for some very sudden shots of violence and gore.

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There are some expertly directed twists that raise the film above what you might expect from a typical crime drama. One of these twists is the fact that the killer is revealed early on so there is no mistaking his identity. And having Joong-ho discover Yeong-min makes it that much more compelling. If it weren’t for our anti-hero, the killer may never have been discovered. Joong-ho is very human in THE CHASER, and though he ultimately feels guilt over the circumstances of his girls, he never truly has a complete change of heart from not-so-good-guy to knight in shining armor. Yeong-min is clearly evil; a typical sociopath, but he remains distant and his motives are never revealed, making him a real mystery. He has no conscience, and has no problem continuing to kill only hours after being released from police custody and knowing he is being watched, which makes for a very scary antagonist.

What makes THE CHASER fascinating is that it is based—albeit loosely—on real-life serial killer, Yoo Young-chul. He was active from 2003 to 2004, and was convicted of twenty murders and received the death penalty. Yoo admitted to killing over twenty prostitutes and wealthy older men, as well as mutilating their bodies and cannibalizing them. These were shocking crimes, and the case polarized the country over the debate on the death penalty.

Having received high praise from film critic Roger Ebert, as well as numerous awards in 2008 when the film was released, THE CHASER is definitely a film worth checking out.

© Copyright 2014 by Colleen Wanglund