Saturday, May 17, 2008

[DVD] The Uninvited (4 Inyong Shiktak) (2003)

I See Dead People Too

The marketeers bill this as a modern horror masterpiece and ranks up there with recent horror stories like Ringu. I'd say phooey, it doesn't even come close, not by a huge mile. Starring probably Korea's most recognizable face Jun Ji-hyun, I'd admit I was curious enough to see how she would take on a horror story after a series of romances and comedies like Daisy, Il Mare, and possible her most popular film to date, My Sassy Girl.

In fact, The Uninvited has little horrific moments in the traditional sense, and its attempts at being a psychological thriller falls flat too with its meek attempts to weave and associate itself with the unknown power of the mind. Its fault lay in not being able to provide its characters with much to do, often having them wallow in self-pity because of their scant abilities to see dead children, and in coming up with too many supporting characters whose purpose serve only one scene, and not the story. Case in point, those 2 kids often used to spook potential audiences, have absolutely nothing to do with the story at all.

Except perhaps to introduce its male lead Mr Kang Jung-won (Park Shin-yang), an interior designer who chanced upon them during a late night train ride, only to know of their deaths in the news the next day. Soon after he sees them sitting around his dining room of his new would-be matrimonial home, and spooks the heck out of him, enough to move back to his father's home. Again by chance he meets up with willowy Yun-jung (Jun Ji-hyun) at his customer's place, a mental clinic, and learns that she attends his father's church too. Yun-jung could have been an interesting character, given her mysterious background, innate shaman like powers and her narcolepsy illness which makes her faint when she least expects to.

Just when Jung-won thinks he's mad to be seeing the dead children, Yun-jung seeing the same thing makes him curious enough to want to know her, and tap her shaman like powers to explain his forgotten childhood. But to get to this point was a drag which takes 90 minutes to have things move onto a higher plateau. There's plenty of unnecessary back and forth of scenes with rather plain characters populating the story, like Jung-won's fiancee, Yun-jung's estranged husband and his mother-in-law, Jung-won's father and sister, Yun-jung's best friend who's there just to provide a tragic element, and the list goes on.

What's peculiar in this movie, is how it prefers to try and shock with its plenty of leaps off buildings, balconies and parapets as its preferred method of death. Even supporting characters are dispatched cleanly through this method, as if they're introduced precisely for this purpose. And it's shown by an unflinching camera too, which doesn't cut away to dampen its desired effect. I had to admit that I was in awe at how it showed head on, the crushing of a toddler by a lorry tyre. Just like that. And of course it's done by special effects, I can't help but to pause the DVD, rewind, and look at it again, thrice.

You have to give credit to its technical strengths, which doesn't rely on cheap tricks like how a typical genre flick would try. But back to basics, what is required is a strong storyline, which The Uninvited doesn't have and squanders its potential. It played out like a hydra with too many things happening at the same time, or brewing in the background, with neither sub plot being developed adequately, and often left hanging and forgotten. It had a theme which could have been made primary - that of the concept of how Truth becomes, only from acceptance, and like that immortalized line from A Few Good Man, can you handle it?

But alas it's too little too late, and with its boring and unnecessary meandering, The Uninvited sinks, and seriously, it's an uninviting movie to sit through for all its blandness.


The Region Free DVD by Panik House Entertainment is presented in anamorphic widescreen, with Audio available in Korean Dolby 2.0, Dolby Surround 5.1 or DTS. There's a Spanish commentary which obviously I've no inkling what was being said, and an English audio essay by Art Black narrated by Korean Film Licensor Ed Lee, which discusses Korean films in general with no tie-in with the movie itself, and ends at the 26th minute mark. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish, with scene selection over 27 chapters.

The Special Features include a series of Behind The Scenes featurettes which is presented in Full Frame with English subtitles available, consisting of Shattered Glass (3:40 of Park Shin-yang smashing those light bulbs), Ceiling Collapses (1:58), Truck (2:01), Afternoon Tea (3:52 of Jun Ji-hyun being splashed with water), Don't Drop the Baby (3:31 of Jun Ji-hyun screaming), Rain (2:13) and Cat Scan (1:19) which has plenty of Jun Ji-hyun perfecting her fainting spells, Hysteria (2;04 with Jun Ji-hyun having music to zone herself into the correct mood) and The Couch (1:52). There's not much insights here on how scenes where constructed, especially the more technically challenging ones.

Reminiscence: An Interview with Ji-hyun Jun and Shin-yang Park is just that, running at 8:34 with both actors describing their characters and experience working on the movie. The green outfits worn by both are striking though. Abridged: The Uninvited Condensed tells the entire story in 15 minutes, and does so successfully. Tells you a lot, doesn't it? And the final feature is From Sketch to Screen: Story Board Comparison with illustrations by director-writer Lee Soo-youn herself, which features more of the interior designs of the various houses used, and showcases spatial storyboards running at 16:55, with spoilers, so remember to watch this last.

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