Blood: The Last Vampire – Horror Film Review

Slashing swords, splashing blood, and flashy CGI – not to mention a hot chick in school uniform – sound like a cool combination, but the life bleeds out of BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE long before the final reel.

Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)Hey, you! Mr. CGI development guy – I’m talking to you! The one who created the software that renders those splashy red blotches of computer-generated “blood” that fly across the screen throughout BLOOD :THE LAST VAMPIRE – I am calling you out.  What the hell were you thinking? You toil in your workshop like a mad scientist fiendishly laboring over some hideous experiment in his lab, and when finished, instead of having a last-minute pang of conscience and destroying your misbegotten creation before it falls into the wrong hands, you deliver it to some hack-tacular filmmakers who use it with all the finesse of a five-year old who inadvertently got his hands on daddy’s paint gun. The results are about as fun as watching somebody shake up a bottle of champagne before popping the cork: it’s good for a giggle the first time, but after 90 minutes – hell, after ten minutes – it gets really old.
Not that I want to blame everything wrong with BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE on the computer-generated imagery – there is plenty of blame to go around. The source material –a piece of Japanese anime – is an over-rated technical exercise with a couple of cool scenes but little in the way of story or characterization. The director of the live-action remake doesn’t know what to do except string one repetitious action scene together after another. And the screenplay is almost a parody of cliched movie writing.
In fact, let’s play a little game about the script. You folks at home, answer these questions:

  1. When our vampire-slaying heroine Saya (Gianna Jun) appears to make a mistake (it looks as if she has killed a human instead of a vampire), (A) it leads to a major plot crisis, recriminations, guilt, and soul searcing; or (B) our heroine is never wrong.
  2. After a heated face off with guns drawn, the leader of the secret organization for whom Saya works will (A) disarm his rogue partner or (B) turn his back on said rogue partner, allowing himself to be shot like an idiot who is too stupid to live.
  3. It is (A) necessary to provide exposition explaining why the “vampires” in the film turn into bad computer-generated gargoyles like something in a Sci Fi Channel movie or (B) who cares?
  4. It is (A) necessary to explain how to kill these bad CGI gargoyles or (B) who cares as long as Gianna Jun looks hot in her school girl uniform while killing them?
  5. When Saya finally confronts Onegin (the “Last Vampire” of the title, played by Koyuki), the script should (A) provide some new twist on the confrontation or (B) borrow the ending of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

If you answered (A) to any of the above, you are not yet ready to write BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE.
To its credit, the screenplay does fill in Saya’s back story, adding a personal motivation for her quest to slay vampires, along with a nemesis in the form of the Onegin character – which combine to give the live-action feature a dramatic conclusion that the anime version of BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE  lacked.
There is also an attempt to soften up the Saya character, giving her an American high-school student as a friend so that we can see her relating to someone on a human level. Korean actress Gianna Jun (a.k.a., Jun Ji-hyun, also spelled Jeon Ji-hyeon) has the right soulful look to imply some humanity lurking beneath the cold-hearted vampire-killing exterior, but the decision to film BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE almost entirely in English renders her vocal performance somewhat akward. The same holds true for Japanese actress Koyuki, who otherwise cuts a visually striking figure as Onegin. (The anime film used English for scenes set upon an American airbase in Japan; the live-action version uses English for almost all scenes except flashbacks to Saya’s past.)
The rest of the cast is unremarkable except for Liam Cunningham, who is reasonably convincing as Saya’s boss until the script forces him to make a stupid, fatal mistake.
Taken on their own, the action scenes are flashy and fun, but they grow repetitious faster than the flash of Saya’s blade. It doesn’t help that there is no special way of killing vampires: Saya doesn’t have to hit a particular weak spot, impale their hearts, or cut off their heads; she just has to hack and slash away – which makes it all seem too easy, even when she is taking on dozens of attackers at once. The scene is obviously meant to compare with Bruce Lee’s battle in ENTER THE DRAGON, but the sheer numbers are not enough; the extensive wire work and fight choreography are mitigated by the use of computer-generated imagery, which puts that unnatural sheen on the action, robbing the scenes of the visceral impact, catchy editing rhythms, and ballet-like quality that mark the best Fant-Asia fantasy films.

Vampire-slayer Saya (Gianna Jun) faces off with Vampire Queen Onegin (Koyuki).
Vampire-slayer Saya (Gianna Jun) faces off with Vampire Queen Onegin (Koyuki).

The one exception is the final face-off between vampire and vampire hunter. Here, the digital effects are used to craft the flowing robes of silk from Onegin’s gown, which reach out like tentacles to ensare Saya. There is a poetic beauty to this battle that lifts it above the earlier sword-fights, with their crude bloodshed. Too bad the script had to weight the scene down with the big dramatic “revelation.” If there is one thing I never want to see in another movie, it’s a scene wherein the villain tells the hero “You’re really one of us,” while extending an invitation to the Dark Side.
Another thing I would never like to see again is half-breed vampire killers. We’ve seen it all before with characters like Blade, Vampire Hunter D, and Sonja Blue (in the Nancy Collins novels starting with Sunglasses After Dark): they’re half-human and half-vampire; their vampire side gives them the power they need to hunt other vampires, but they fear succumbing to the blood lust and losing their humanity. Despite her Japanese origin, Saya is less in common with Vampire Hunter D than with Sonja Blue, who is also an ageless young girl hunting her own kind; the difference is that Sonya has a more interesting back story, and her inner conflict plays out in a more dramatic way throughout the novels, instead of being played like a weak trump card at the climax. (This is not an element of the animated BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE, which hinted that Saya was the last “original” vampire, hunting down some kind of mutant strain of the species.)
The live-action rendition of BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE will probably please fans of the anime short subject, but more general audiences and even fans of Asian horror and Fant-Asia flicks will grow restless with the endless swordplay’s mind-numbing lack of variation. The funny thing is that, pulled out of context and viewed on their own, the scenes are not bad, which is why the film looks so cool when viewed in short clips online. With a plot that serves mostly to string the set-pieces along, BLOOD THE LAST VAMPIRE might be a project that would have worked better as a series of high-octane webisodes, rather than a full-length feature film.
This promotional artwork promises a level of citywide destruction not seen in the actual film.
This promotional artwork promises a level of citywide destruction not seen in the actual film.

BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE (2009). Directed by Chris Nahon, Screenplay by Chris Chow, based on characters created by Kenji Kamiyama & Katsuya Terada. Cast: Gianna Jun, Allison Miller, Masiela Lusha, J.J. Field, Koyuki, Liam Cunningham, Yasuaki Kurata, Michael Byrne, Colin Salmon.

Alone – Fant-Asia Horror Film Review

ALONE is an Asian import – not from the usual suspects Japan or Korea, but Thailand (technically, the film is partly set in Korea, but it is a Thai production). Although not a masterpiece, it is an intriguing tale told in a suitably spooky manner, offering evidence that, nearly a decade after the J-Horror wave launched with RING, there is still some life in supernatural horror movies from the Orient.

Pim is a married woman living in Korea, who returns to Thailand after her mother has a stroke. Home is definitely not where the heart is, however; Pim is haunted – either psychologically or literally – by the ghost of her deceased conjoined twin, who apparently resents Pim’s happy life alone, after the two of them had sworn to stay together forever.

The typical supernatural scares are executed with all effectiveness you could desire, but ALONE is essentially a study of Pim’s psychological deterioration. The plotting is slow (it takes forever for flashbacks to reveal things we have already guessed, such as that Pim insisted on being surgically separated from her twin in order to get married); fortunately, the script pulls off a great surprise twist near the end that not only casts more light on the proceedings but also helps make sense out of why Pim is so guilt-ridden. If one were to pick a point of comparison, the closest predecessor would be A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (which also played the game of “is the haunting real or imagined), but ALONE is much less cryptic in its storytelling.

If ALONE suffers from any obvious flaw, it is one fairly typical of ghost and/or haunted house movies: the lead character trues to go about her daily life, which is interrupted by the intrusion of the supernatural; consequently, the story has little forward momentum, relying on the ghostly manifestations to liven things up, until the characters are finally forced to take action in the last act. For those patient enough to sit through the protracted set-up, the pay-off is worthwhile.
Unfortunately, ALONE is not currently available in the U.S.
ALONE (Faet, 2007). Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun &
Parkpoom Wongpoom. Screenplay by Aummaraporn Phandintong,
Banjong Pisanthanakun, Sopon Sukdapisit (as Sophon Sakdaphisit),
Parkpoom Wongpoom. Cast:
Marsha Wattanapanich … Pim / Ploy
Vittaya Wasukraipaisan … Vee (as Withaya Wasukraipaisan)
Ratchanoo Bunchootwong … Pim and Ploy’s Mother (as Ruchanu Boonchooduang)
Hatairat Egereff … Pim – age 15
Rutairat Egereff … Ploy – age 15
Namo Tongkumnerd … Vee – age 15 (as Namo Tonggamnerd)
Chutikan Vimuktananda … Pim – age 7
Chayakan Vimuktananda … Ploy – age 7

Blood: The Last Vampire – Interview with Vampire Hunter Gianna Jun

BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE is a live-action horror film based on the 2001 anime short subject of the same title. Shot in the style of a Hong Kong fant-asia film, with lots of martial arts swordplay choreographed by Corey Yuen (THE ONE, X-MEN), BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE is a Chinese-French co-production, with a French director (Chris Nahon – KISS OF THE DRAGON), a Chinese screenwriter (Chris Chow – THE EYE 3) and a Chinese producer (Bill Kong – CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON), and an international cast. Irishman Liam Cunningham (Dario Argento’s THE CARD PLAYER) is Michael, agent of a super-secret organization tracking down vampires on an American airbase in Japan during the Vietnam War. Japanese actress Koyuki (KAIRO, a.k.a. “Pulse”) is Onigen, the vampire queen who is the ultimate target of Michael’s organization. And Korean star Gianna Jun is Saya, the half-human vampire-hunter hybrid who works as Michael’s assassin in order to further her own quest for revenge against the demons that killed her father.

Gianna (Jun Ji-hyun)Gianna (whose real name is Jun Ji-hyun, also spelled Jeon Ji-hyeon) is a popular actress and product-pitchwoman in her native country, most well known for romantic comedys like MY SASSY GIRL (2001), for which she won a Best Actress award at the Daejong Film Festival. BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE is her first horror film, but she has appeared in other types of cinefantastique, usually love stories with romantic overtones, such as WINDSTRUCK and  IL MARE (2000), the latter of which was remade as THE LAKE HOUSE with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. Although some of her titles are available on DVD in the U.S., BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE (which is her first English-language film) is the first to receive a relatively high-profile theatrical release in North America, making it her debut for most American viewers.
Cinefantastique conducted an interview with the actress from Korea, via email. Although press notes for  BLOOD THE LAST VAMPIRE list her simply as “Gianna,” most sources indicates that she has adopted the Westernized name “Gianna Jun” ; hence, we have adopted that usage here.
CINEFANTASTIQUE: Before BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE, your previous films were mostly comedies, love stories, or fantasies. Had you been looking to make a different kind of movie, such as an action films or horror films?
GIANNA JUN: The doors are always open for actors. I’m pretty open to all kinds of genres of film and I was fortunate enough to be given this opportunity.
CINEFANTASTIQUE: Would you even say that BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE is a “horror movie” – or is it an action film?
GIANNA JUN: I would say that it is horror and action.
CINEFANTASTIQUE: Compared to your other films, what was most different about making BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE?
GIANNA JUN: I liked the combination of the strong character and all the action – that is different from what I am used to. And since the original is an animation film, there is a sense of fantasy in this action film.
CINEFANTASTIQUE: Had you seen the anime version of BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE, and what did you think of it? Did you ever imagine that you would star in a live-action version?
GIANNA JUN: I watched the original after I was offered the part. It was very nerve breaking and exciting at the same time.
CINEFANTASTIQUE: How were you cast in BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE? Was it through Bill Kong, who produced your film WINDSTRUCK?
CINEFANTASTIQUE: Saya is half-vampire and half-human. Besides being a woman, how would you say she is different from other vampire-humans like “Vampire Hunter D” or “Blade” (with Wesley Snipes)?
GIANNA JUN: To relate to her painful past and her emotional disturbances to “loneliness” is not merely enough. I think that these past experiences of hers are what make the viewer want to embrace her, rather than see her as a mysterious being, and I think that that is what really makes her different and unique.
CINEFANTASTIQUE: What was the biggest challenge of playing the lead in BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE? Having to play it in English, or learning to do the sword-fighting and martial arts?
GIANNA JUN: Of course doing the action part was one of the challenges, but I would say the most difficult part was language. It was hard to express the character’s feelings in a foreign language. After practicing and practicing, I was gradually able to attain some skills.

Vampire-hunter Saya (Gianna) battles vampire-queen Onigen (Koyuki).
Vampire-hunter Saya (Gianna Jun) battles vampire-queen Onigen (Koyuki).

CINEFANTASTIQUE: Despite the Japanese setting BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE is shot mostly in English, except for the flashbacks of Saya when she was young. The English dialogue makes sense for scenes set on the American air force base, but was there ever discussion of using more Japanese dialogue in other sections of the film, like when you confront Onigen (Koyuki)?
GIANNA JUN: This film is a global project, and because Saya is not from a particular region, it was decided that the dialogue would be in English.
CINEFANTASTIQUE: How much training did you do for the martial arts?
GIANNA JUN: I had a three hard months of training that included distance running, kicking practice and muscle-strengthening exercises in China and the U.S. Also, I learned intensive skills like wire action for those fight scenes.
Spectacular action wire-work, choreographed by Corey Yuen
Spectacular action wire-work, choreographed by Corey Yuen

CINEFANTASTIQUE: Did you have to do much wire-work?
GIANNA JUN: Of course I did. I hung on a wire in the rain for like a whole month.
CINEFANTASTIQUE: Were there any injuries or close-calls?
GIANNA JUN: There was an accident – I was bumped into a crane camera when I was hanging on a wire. It was not that serious, though.
CINEFANTASTIQUE: How much of what we see is you, not a stunt double or computer-generated effects?
GIANNA JUN: There were parts we had to use stunt doubles and CG, but I chose to put my training to use as much as I could.
CINEFANTASTIQUE: In some scenes you are fighting creatures that were added later in special effects. How difficult was it to fight something that was not there on set with you?
GIANNA JUN: It was a little awkward at first but the surrounding expectations motivated me to put extra effort into those scenes.
CINEFANTASTIQUE: There is so much action in BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE – making the movie must have been exhausting. How did you keep your energy up until the end of shooting?
GIANNA JUN: I didn’t think too much about it… I was greatly motivated in the beginning, but as the time past, all I could think about was finishing the movie. It’s not like you gain more energy if you spend less…I actually felt more energized as I spent it more.
CINEFANTASTIQUE: The character of Saya in the anime version of BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE is not very expressive; she is always serious. In the live-action film, you play Saya as a very strong character but still hint at some weakness and emotion. Was this in the script, or did you add it to the character? Do you think you went far enough with the emotion, or would like to have done more? How much emotion can you add without making the character seem too vulnerable?
GIANNA JUN: The script was altered from the original quite a bit so some of the details about the characters and the events were excluded. As a result, there were parts where it was more difficult to portray the character’s inner thoughts… and throughout the process I realized how difficult it is to portray action and emotion at the same time.
Just one example of the films high body count.
Just one example of the film's high body count.

CINEFANTASTIQUE: When you were making BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE did you know it would have so much blood in it? (I ask because much of the blood looks as if it was added later with computer-generated imagery.)
GIANNA JUN: I myself was pretty surprised when I watched the finished product. It was much bloodier than I had imagined while filming…I didn’t realize I had killed so brutally. Ha ha!
CINEFANTASTIQUE: Although BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE is your first monster movie, you have made some fantasy or sci-fi films. Could you tell us a little bit about your roles in some of those films, like WINDSTRUCK (“Nae yeojachingureul sogae hamnida”), which sounds like a romantic fantasy, about a dead lover who comes back in the form of wind.
GIANNA JUN: “The character Ye Kyung Jin is a bold female cop who loses her boyfriend to an accident. After, she spends her days sensing her love in the winds. It’s a story that portrays how the pain of love can only be healed by love.”
CINEFANTASTIQUE: THE UNINVITED (also known as “A Table for Four,” 2003) is described as a psychological horror film, about a man seeing visions of two dead children.
GIANNA JUN: I portray a depressed house wife Yen, who is deeply lethargic. She struggles between the past and the present and eventually takes the revenge to herself.
CINEFANTASTIQUESIWORAE (also known as “Il Mare” or “Hanja,” 2000) is another romantic fantasy, with two lovers separated by time.
GIANNA JUN: It’s a love story that enters the past and the present through a postbox—a story where the power of love can stop the time to find true love.
GIANNA JUN: Yes. It looks new and very different from the original film. But, I’m so happy that Korean films are acknowledged and remade by Hollywood.
CINEFANTASTIQUE: For many of our readers, BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE will be the first film of yours that they see. If they are interested in seeing more of your films, which ones would you recommend.
GIANNA JUN: ‘My Sassy Girl’ and ‘Siworae’ have already been remade in Hollywood. The originals are always better so…I don’t think I need to say further. 🙂
CINEFANTASTIQUE: Saya’s fate is a mystery at the end of BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE. Has there been any talk of bringing her back in a sequel?
GIANNA JUN: I know Bill Kong announced he’s willing to make a sequel.
CINEFANTASTIQUE: What’s next for you?
GIANNA JUN: I’m planning to do more Korean films, but nothing is decided yet.

BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE opens Friday, July 10 in select cities around the U.S.


Blood: The Last Vampire – New Clip

Here is a newly released clip from BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE: Vampire-hunter Saya (Korean actress Gianna) battles winged demon atop a jeep wedged percariously over a ravine. If you enjoy over-the-top Fant-Asia-style martial arts, you will get a kick of out this sequence, which is one of the better scenes in the film.

Thirst opens July 31 – Watch the Trailer

THIRST – the bloody vampire-drama-tragedy from Korean writer-director Park Chan-wook – has been scheduled for a July 31 release in the U.S., courtesy of Universal Studios’s boutique label, Focus Features. Fans of Park’s earlier work (OLD BOY, SYMPATHEY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, LADY VENGEANCE, THREE EXTREMES) will see much that is familiar, but this time the meticulous cinematic techique and bloody violence are put in the service of a story about  a priest who becomes a vampire after receiving a blood transfusion during an experiment medical treatment that goes wrong. The new bloodlust leads to a more familiar form of lust, and the priest launches into an affair with the beautiful young wife of an old friend, leading to a story that feels more like Nagisa Oshima’s masterful kaidan EMPIRE OF PASSION than a traditional vampire tale – although, being a Park Chan-wood film, the emotional turbulence is visualized in a series of brutally violent sequences. The “red band” trailer gives a good idea of the mayhem that ensues…

Blood: The Last Vampire – Trailer & Preview

A previously posted trailer for BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE was pulled for copyright reasons, but we recently recieved an authorized version, so here it is again. The trailer actually does a good job of enticing you into wanting to see the movie: the photography looks great, suggesting a lavish production; the action seems exciting; and the flashes of special effects are properly monstrous and convincing. Unfortunately, the film itself does not quite live up to its own hype. General audiences and even fans of horror and fantasy may find the vampire-sword battles a bit repetitious (and one scene, involving a winged demon pursuing a jeep, seems lifted directly from UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION), but BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE will probably please fans of the 2001 anime short subject on which this new live-action version is based.
Curiously, BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE retains the Japanese setting of the original but is shot almost entirely in English (except for a few flashbacks). Equally curious, the leading lady – vampire-slayer Saya – is played by a Korean actress, while her nemesis, the villainous vampire-queen Onegin, is played by a Japanese actress. I’ll leave it to others to sort out the racial implications, if any.

Thirst: Q&A with Park Chan-wook at Hollywood Reporter

Thirst (Bakjwi, 2009)THIRST – a new “vampire romance” from Korean writer-director Park Chan-wook (LADY VENGEANCE, THREE EXTREMES) – is the first Korean production completed with Hollywood financing (courtesy of Universal Pictures). The film (which is about a priest who is turned into a vampire when an experiment goes wrong) will be screening in competition at the Cannes Film Festival this month. In honor of this event, Hollywood Reporter has posted an interview with Park Chan-wook:

The Hollywood Reporter: What is a vampire movie doing In Competition in Cannes? In fact, is “vampire movie” really the right term?
Park Chan-wook: This is one of the questions that trouble me the most. As soon as one starts to classify a film by genre, whatever it may be, people start to have unnecessary preconceptions. Furthermore, that kind of definition cannot embrace the whole film. For instance, if I said “Thirst” is a “vampire romance,” most people will think of “Interview With the Vampire,” or “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” even though the romanticism found in those films has nothing at all to do with “Thirst.” Also, no one will be able to conceive of the religious issues that are embedded in “Thirst.” But if I really had to come up with an answer, I cannot think of any other than “vampire romance.” If there is a more accurate way of classifying it, please let me know.
THR: I’ve heard that you scare easily. Do you believe in the existence of vampires?
Park: Back in the days when I was poor, I watched a lot of horror films on a very old, small TV. They were on these VHS tapes that had been taped over a number of times and the picture quality was terrible. At the time I thought I was a horror film fan. But then came the age of DVDs, and my TV was replaced with a big new one. Only then did I realize that I scare easily. Ever since, I have not been able to watch horror films. Vampires are a metaphor for all kinds of exploiters. I certainly do believe in the existence of exploiters.

Thanks to Universal’s involvement, THIRST (known as Bakjwi in Korea) will be distributed internationall by the high-end boutique label Focus Features (although no U.S. date has been set). Park, who has been offered the opportunity to helm the reboot of THE EVIL DEAD, states that the Hollywood involvement in THIRST has not motivated him to work in America, but he might make the jump if the script is right:

Park: […] The issue of whether I make a Hollywood film or not, is only related to the question of whether I can find a good enough script. Unless I have in my hand a script that is suitable for an English-language film (regardless of whether I or someone else wrote it), I won’t be working on a Hollywood film. But if a script like that came my way right now, I would be prepared to go straight from Cannes to L.A. without stopping home in Seoul.

Witch Board: Bunshinsaba (2004) – K-Horror Film Review

Despite some effective scare scenes WITCH BOARD: BUNSHISABA is a disappointing horror film from South Korean writer-director Byeong-ki Ahn, whose PHONE is one of the best of the Asian ghost movies to follow in the wake of RING. All the familiar elements are back in place (the dark-haired ghost girl, the girls-school setting, etc), and Ahn manipulates them as well as ever, but his scenario is a jumbled mess that doesn’t come close to holding together as a coherent movie. By the time the ending wraps up, even the most patient fan of Asian horror films may become fed up with the haphazard plotting.
WITCH BOARD: BUNSHISABA begins with some victimized school girls putting a curse on their tormentors, who begin bursting into flames, but this plot thread is soon resolved as the perpetrators are identified. Is the movie already over, after only a half-hour? No, Byeong-ki Ahn keeps the story going by telling us that the curse was carried about by a vengeful ghost girl. Apparently, she was obliging enough to follow orders and kill the bullies, but she also has her own agenda – and a good thing, too, otherwise it would be hard to stretch the film to feature length. As usual, there is a back story about the ghost, and some of the adult characters are hiding an evil secret about her demise. As if that were not enough the ghost girl (surprise, surprise) wants to be reborn in the flesh – just like Kayako in JU-ON: THE GRUDGE 2.
WITCH BOARD: BUNSHINSABA is so derivative that it feels like the work of a hack, shamelessly ripping off other movies. Of course, Byeong-ki Ahn has never been noted for his originality, and his previous screenplays feel as if he cherry-picked favorite elements from other horror films. At least in PHONE, he managed to synthesize these fragments into a coherent murder-mystery-drama in which the horror scenes acted as visceral punctuation marks.
Sadly, WITCH BOARD: BUNSHISABA is a throwback to Byeong-ki Ahn’s earlier effort NIGHTMARE, which (though entertaining) felt like two different movies spliced together (a psycho-thriller a la Brian DePalma or Dario Argento combined an Asian ghost story). At least the splicing pretended to serve a function there (the audience is supposed to guess whether the gruesome murders are committed by a ghost or by a lunatic). WITCH BOARD: BUNSHINSABA is even worse: it feels like three or four different movies spliced together, with no rhyme or reason at all to justify the combination. You get the feeling that every idea Ahn had while working the on script found its way onto the screen, whether it fit in or not.
Ahn still has a decent grasp of the mechanics of fear, but with an incoherent story that goes nowhere, the scare scenes wear themselves out through endless repetition, creating a film that feels almost interminable. Fortunately, there are a few nice touches to remind us that the man does have some talent, but it is on better display in PHONE.
Before WITCH BOARD: BUNSHINSABA, Byeong-ki Ahn seemed poised to become a major force in the horror genre – the Korean equivalent of Takashi Shimizu. As a debut film, NIGHTMARE was flawed but entertaining, displaying exciting potential – potential that was more full realized in his follow-up, PHONE. Unfortunately, instead of hitting his stride, he stumbled badly with WITCH BOARD, but reaction to APT (Apateu, 2006) indicates he bounced back. Next up for him is the obligatory, unnecessary American remake of PHONE, though the extent of his involvement (if any) is unclear at this point.


The Korean title “Bunshinsaba” is more or less the equivalent of “abacadabra” – a magic word meant to invoke spirits. English-subtitled prints seen at festival screenings in the U.S. rendered the title as “Ouija Board” although there is no Ouija Board on screen.

WITCH BOARD: BUNSHINSABA (Bunshinsaba, 2004). Written and directed by Byeong-ki Ahn. Cast: Kim Gyu-ri, Lee Se-Eun, Lee Yoo-ri, Choi Jeong-yoon.

J-Horror director wins award – for going mainstream

It’s an old story, but it seems like we’ll never stop hearing it told again: You can wow audiences and even earn a certain cult acclaim by in the horror genre, but it you won’t win awards until you go mainstream; then all the critics who liked your work but didn’t want to bestow accolades on something as disreputable as a horror film can come out of the closet and bestow an award on you, which can be interpreted either as a reward for leaving the genre behind or as a retroactive acknowledgement of all the good work you’ve done in the past. This distinction between successfully scary pop art and seriously respectable cinema was perhaps most vivid in 1993 when Steven Spielberg directed both JURASSIC PARK – which went on to become the biggest box officer grosser ever up to that time – and SCHINDLER’S LIST – which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
The latest example of this phenomenon is Kiyoshi Kurosawa, director of the influential 2001 J-horror film PULSE (which was remade in America a few years later). Although many of Kurosawa’s films have screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the director just pieced up his first award there – for the non-genre TOKYO SONOTA:

 “I have shown films at Cannes many times before,” he said.
“But with Tokyo Sonata I felt that audiences really appreciated the film and found it satisfying. It wasn’t that they saw it as something weird and exclusively Japanese. They could relate to it,” he added.

In a Reuters interview, Kurosawa makes it clear that the genre change was not merely to win awards; like many who toil in horror, he wanted to avoid being typed in the genre:

“I made a lot of horror films, but I wanted to do other things,” the 53-year-old director told Reuters on Thursday. “I didn’t want to be seen as a specialist in that genre.”


Re-cycle (2007) – Asian Horror Through the Looking Glass

The intersection between Fiction and Reality has provided an excellent starting point for artistic exploration, at least since Jorge Luis Borges, and here the Pang Brothers use it to reorient a career that has drifted off track since THE EYE (2002). That memorable ghost story was one of the few Asian horror films (along with the JU-ON series) that could keep pace with RING, the film that opened up a whole new territory back in 1998. Since then, the Pang Brothers have given us two disappointing sequels and an equally disappointing American debut, THE MESSENGERS. Now, with their most recent trip to the realm of supernatural horror, they attempt to prove – with some success – that they have not completely lost their way. RE-CYCLE begins in familiar territory but seeks to discover previously unexplored pathways sheltering unfamiliar frights. If, in the end, the trip rambles aimlessly through some dull patches, you have to admire the Pang’s effort to boldly go somewhere new. Continue reading “Re-cycle (2007) – Asian Horror Through the Looking Glass”