Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dracula Aema (드라큐라 애마) (1994)

 After 1982, Korea spawned a countless number of erotic movies, a genre that plagued the silver screen for over a decade. But since the government installed his “SSS” policy back in the early 80’s, it was only a matter of time before the cinema industry was flooded with sexy and steamy productions. The most famous series of them all is perhaps “Aema Buin”. It all started back in 1982 and went on through the late 90’s, the “Aema” series has now 12 official sequels and many unofficial ones as well as rip-offs.

Any films that bare the “Aema” title is always a curiosity, that’s why director Suk Do-won (Aema Buin 4,5,6,7,8 and 10) decided to make a move toward the horror and fantasy genre. He quite succeeded in mixing the exoticism of Korean beauty O No-a (Aema Buin 10) with the western lustful-horror myth of Dracula, which is actually portrayed by regular Aema Buin actor, Won Seok.

The story is about Hyun-woo, a computer geek who while working at night on a video project is suddenly thrown into a world of dreams and illusions (with the help of a CD he found on the beach) where he meets with the beautiful Aema (a new servant of Dracula himself). She then tells to Hyun-woo about her past where we discover she was savagely beaten by her boss and later gang-raped in a car by some delinquent rich kids. Through a series of spiritual illusions, Hyun-woo witnesses the beautiful Aema tracking down those who abused and killed her. Will Aema take her revenge and finally erase all those bad memories that are encrypted on that CD-Rom?

Dracula Aema provides enough suspense for its erotic counterpart but lack in the horror department. Of course we expect to see the fangs and the dripping blood but instead director Suk Do-won decided to stay faithful to the erotic guideline of the Aema Buin series. However, he definitely did a great job mastering the suspense. All those strange encounters that Hyun-woo has, leaves the viewer with something to think about, the dreamy aspect of those scenes are quite captivating and let’s not forget that the story takes place again on the beautiful Korean island of Jeju.
Some elements almost remind me of Hisayasu Sato's work, such as the use of some audio/video technology (here a computer and CD Rom). Visually, Dracula Aema is similar to the rest of the series with a good sense of framing and playful use of light, for example the evil presence is always manifested by a neon green aura, which makes the whole scene sexier. It is also, refreshing to see Won Soek again in an Aema movie but this time portraying the enigmatic and lustful Dracula. This is perhaps the best Korean-style personification of the western myth.

Deulakyula Aema

Suk Do-won

O No-a
Go Hyeong-jun
Won Seok


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Women's Rage in Three Countries (삼국여한) (1982)

 In this great entry from 1980’s horror master director Kim In-soo (Festival of Fear, Public Cemetery of Grudges), we can anticipate excitement with the storytelling. First of all, this is a movie that is presented in 3 segments, a bit like Creepshow which came out at about the same period. Although directed by a Korean, this film tells the stories of 3 women/ghosts who are eager for revenge in 3 Asian countries, Korea, China and Japan. I must say that the first 2 stories were quite conventional technically and reminded me very much of the 60’s horror style because of their strong colors, long shadows, low key light etc. As for the last segment (Japan) it is perhaps to most gripping of all 3, it has great elements of fear and even some odd grand guignol effects such as a bloody severed head flying around or a traditional female ghost figure fighting against a samurai, all this with very tight action editing.
 The first part happens in Korea during the Chosun Dynasty. After getting married to her very young groom (a child), Ok-nyeo is on the road with her husband when suddenly attacked by a group of bandits who kill the young groom. Ok-nyeo is then kidnapped and rape by the men. Later she awakes in a cave where the bandits brought her to Choi Wang-ryol who really likes her, but when he tries to have sex with her she kill herself by biting off her tongue. Afraid, Choi Wang-ryol escapes but first he dumps Ok-nyeo’s body in the stream nearby the cave then, her vengeful soul is out for blood.
 The second part takes place in China where a wealthy man orders his servant to bring some girls to his house. He then choose one of them to have sex with but he suddenly start to experience some strange manifestations of a female ghost. That ghost was a woman he once killed but she is now reappearing whenever Mr. Wang wants to abuse a woman. In the final part, the story is set in feudal Japan.
 A young man poisons his wife after making an evil plan with his mistress. Just when they thought their new love life was going well, the wife comes back as a ghost with a terrible grudge. Usually that type of omnibus focuses on horror and suspense but instead, Kim In-soo injects his little stories with lurid sensual scenes. This makes the viewer shift from fear to desire and vice-versa, changing the tone is a very common thing in Korean cinema. The whole is quite interesting and even sometimes very surprising as I mentioned but unfortunately, the movie loses steam during the second story due to some overacting comedic scenes.
 I would recommend this one only for the final of the third episode since it’s something you see very rarely in Korean cinema (the flying severed heads). Finally, let’s not forget to mention the original use of cool eerie bloody visual effects mixed with a soundtrack that brings together traditional score and atmospheric synthesize


Kim In-soo
Park Am
Chung Kyoo-young
Hwang Kun


Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Door to the Flesh (육체의 문) (1981)

Not a bad thriller with an early appearance by actress Kim Hae-sook (The Headless Murderess / Thirst). Once again, a good tryout at the suspense genre featuring an innocent couple able to outsmart the police investigation, all this in a vivid color spectrum background giving it a surreal touch, perhaps the Korean answer to the Argento/DePalma style of the late 70’s. However, the story got somehow confusing until the very end which wasn’t much convincing and left some holes in the plot. Let’s not forget to mention the surprise ending, which was a trend at the time since Brian DePalma’s Carrie, but here it was a bit unnecessary.
Here we are dealing with one of the few Korean slasher movies, our protagonist are mid-twenties young girls on the verge of marriage, which is quite a contrast with their American counterpart who are usually teenagers on the lookout for parties and sex. Kim Hae-suk and her friends quit their factory jobs after discussing and head up for the big city hoping for a better life. Here again we have an opposite situation with the typical American slashers, the group arrive in a big city (Seoul) instead of going to the countryside. So, after living a few months in the city they all enjoy their happy life and start dating men. But the abundance and easy way of the city life is soon going to punish them for their arrogance. Later, one of the girls get married with a strange man. During their honeymoon, the couple have an argument and the husband who then become angry kill his wife and then commit suicide. From there, the police investigate on similar murders that start to happen among that group of girls. Here, murders are shown in the tradition of slasher films with all the false scares and sudden attacks from behind, the killer reveal to be the specter of the same man who commited suicide, he now stalks the other women to get revenge on “them” and also kills whoever is in the way. Later, Hae-suk and her boyfriend go to the morgue to check on the bodies of the victims and the killer, they notice that the corpse of the killer is missing. The vengeful specter of the killer starts chasing Hae-suk and her boyfriend in the laboratory building for the final showdown. At the end, Hae-suk’s boyfriend is in the shower and suddenly starts talking to the camera and say a very out of place but funny warning: “Women, if you are no treating your men with respect, the same thing might happen to you!”.
The Door to the Flesh possess something innovative among Korean films with its daring approach to the psycho thriller genre mixed with an equally researched soundtrack. Speaking of soundtrack, there are some particular sound-effects which turned out to be well mixed in the atmosphere as we can hear an echo of girls screaming whenever there is a scary or sudden moment. Overall, The Door to the Flesh as more to offer for the murder and mystery fan with a bit of horror rather than a supernatural thriller like the VHS cover suggest.
Yugche-ui mun

Lee Ki-hwan
Kim Ae-sook
Kim Seong-geun
LJang Il-sik


Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Monstruous Corpse (괴시) (1980)

Director Gang Beom-gu has an impressive background of dramas, action, crime, war movies and even anti-communist features. But he’s perhaps more famous for having co-directed the unofficial sequel of Game of Death, also called Tower of Death 2 with the legendary Hwang Jang Lee and choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping. So right after that big co-production, Gang Beom-gu directed this little unique gem of Korean horror cinema: Goesi (A Monstruous Corpse), with little financial help. The result is a rather interesting approach to the zombie genre but at the same time, suffers from being too much similar with the 1974 classic, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. Veteran actor Park Am (Mandala, Hunting for Idiots, Iodo and Martyrs to name a few) can be seen as the police chief and gives his usual strong and convincing performance. That said, Goesi has all the elements of the typical horror film made at time in Europe, which is characterized by low key lighting with vivid colors, moody soundtrack and a terrified female protagonist who just can’t run away from the zombies who try to attack her. Speaking of zombies, this was Korea’s very first attempt at the genre.
The story revolves around 2 young people who met each other on a countryside road. Kang Myung was hitchhiking and was picked up by Su-ji on her way to see her brother-in-law. But when she arrives at her destination they find Su-ji’s brother-in-law dead. Soon the police start to suspect Kang Myung. Shocked and skeptical about the events, the dynamic duo decides to search the surrounding area. Kang Myung discovers that scientists are working at a lab with a supersonic transmitter. Soon, more strange things start to happen in the nearby forest. After looking around all day, Kang Myung and Su-ji decide to do further investigation in an old abandoned house where they are suddenly attacked by a horde of undead. Fans of gore elements easily found in Italian or other European productions will no doubt be slightly let down, but if you're in it for more than striking visuals, there's lots of enjoyment to be found here. Of course, Korean cinema is perhaps one of the fastest changing cinema industry I’ve ever seen, which is a direct reflection of their society. You can compare for example, monster movies such as The Flying monster (Bicheongoesu) with the Host and there is only 20 years between the 2, but visually and technically it looks more like 40! That’s what Korean cinema is all about, once you dig in the past you might find some movies that didn’t seem much interesting but in their social and political context they take a whole new dimension and therefore, are really enjoyable and fascinating.
Goesi (Goeshi)

Gang Beom-gu

Yu Gwang-ok
Park Am
Sin Chan-il


Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Flying Monster (비천괴수) (1984)

 The Flying Monster is one good example of Korea’s attempt at the “Kaiju” genre back in the 80’s. Sadly the genre as died since Shin Hyun-ray last 2 films (Yonggari and D-War) which were epic failures. The Flying Monster is sheer fun and cheese, since back in the days everything had to be made with the traditional “man in the rubber suit”, so this movie has its laughable moments but also has a strong dramatic sub-plot to it (which is common to Korean productions). Of course the effects are dated and the scenario is fairly poor but you get to see some full scale battles mixed with ambitious city destruction which at the same time becomes a bit confusing since many monsters (some from the Ultraman series and others like a giant dragon from the Taiwanese production Monster from the Sea) appear at some point and start destroying everything with no rational explanation for it.
After Dr. Kim is gone missing trying to find dinosaurs traces, the young and pretty reporter Kang Ok-hi is sent by her chief editor to investigate on Dr. Kim's new theory. She disguises as a maid and searches Dr. Kim’s house to steal his thesis. During the day, Dr. Kim investigates about some archeological work nearby the coast and manages to discover dinosaurs footprints. Suddenly, a mysterious giant bird (who looks like a prehistoric bird with a chicken head) appears and some disastrous incidents occur one after another. Dr. Kim believes that the only way to prevent those is by destroying the bird’s eggs. He then starts to search for the eggs as new monsters appear and rampage the nearby cities.
Needless to say this was an attempt at a big comeback to the giant monster genre since the late 60’s but seems to have somehow failed at the box office. However, The Flying monster gained a cult status among the Korean sci-fi genre, since most of the similar production of that era were aimed at children and they were featuring a strong sense of comedy which is not a characteristic of The Flying Monster. In general, I must admit that this movie has a good suspense and some good ol’ special effects which must have been so much fun on the big screen back in the days.

Kim Jung-yong
Kim Ki-ju
Nam Hye-gyeong
Kim Da-hye