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'Bloody Reunion' [DVD Review] A competent slasher pic that could have been nastier

2008/01/20 | 1547 views | Permalink | Source

Kyu Hyun Kim (qhyunkim)

Six twenty-something characters are invited for a party by their elementary school classmate Mi-ja (Seo Young-hee, the neurotic landlady from "Jealousy Is My Middle Name"), who has been caring for her former teacher Ms. Park (Oh Mi-hee), now infirm and wheelchair-bound. The guests turn out to be a motley crew of losers and basket cases, however.

Worse, each of them bears a serious grudge against Ms. Park. Sun-hee (Lee Ji-hyun-IV, Yeo Gyoon-dong's "La Belle"), traumatized by the teacher's public taunting of her baby fat, has become Addicted to plastic surgery and suffers from bulimia. Park Hyo-joon ("A Dirty Carnival") ruined his leg while being punished by Ms. Park and had to fold his childhood dream of becoming an ace baseball player. Se-ho (Yeo Hyun-soo, "Holiday") and Eun-young (Yoo Seol-ah), now a couple, is still struggling against the memories of insults and put-downs regarding their childhood poverty.

Even Myung-ho (Lee Dong-kyu, Kim Eung-su's "Desire"), an obvious teacher's pet, is trying to medicate away the nightmares involving Ms. Park's creepy "affection". As if these were not bad enough, the loving teacher used to keep her horribly deformed child in the basement, whose current whereabouts are unknown. Soon, someone wearing a paper-cut rabbit mask starts to make salami and head cheese slices out of the characters.

"Bloody Reunion", rechristened by Tartan USA in place of the grammatically incorrect original title "To Sir, With Love", is an unapologetically gory throwback to the '80s slasher formula. The South Korean horror field had made its share of embarrassing forays into the post-Scream teen slasher genre ("Harpy", anyone?) in late 1990s, only to be thoroughly colonized by the PSC (Pointless Sadako Clones). The movie is basically old wine in an old bag: a marriage of the brutally (often obtusely) efficient "Friday the 13th"-style structure and one of contemporary Korea's enduring cultural obsessions -- the virulent love-hate relationships the Koreans have with their schools and schoolteachers.

Yet, to their credit, newcomer director Lim Dae-woong, scribe Park Se-yeol and production crew spice up this material with extravagantly bloody touches (reminiscent of the '80s Dario Argento as exemplified by "Opera" and "Trauma") and some juicily nasty setups. The screenplay is calculated to touch nerve endings of the viewers with traumatic schoolyard experiences. It doles out to them moments of delicious frisson, whenever Ms. Park finds her at the mercy of the vengeful adults who were once her helpless charges.

The young cast members try hard and are mostly good. Standouts are Park Hyo-jun, usually typecast as a "fat junior thug" but here doing a nice turn as a hang-dog yelper, seething with the resentment he is too chicken to acknowledge in public, and Lee Ji-hyun-IV, who has the gumption to do almost all of her scenes wearing sunglasses.

Unfortunately, "Bloody Reunion" falls victim to the same cliched "plot twist" -- should I designate the symptom as TOTS ("A Tale of Two Sisters")-itis? -- that has dragged down many recent Korean horror films.

To give credit where it is due, this particular "twist" is not as thuddingly obvious as in "Face", "Cello", "February 29 - 4 Horror Tales", etc. and ad nauseam, but putting the puzzle together into a coherent picture appears to have been beyond the ken for director Lim and writer Park. There are way too many pieces left around that don't fit. One character's trauma, for instance, simply evaporates into thin air, since the surprise leaves no possibility that it could have been experienced by another character (and yet obviously that is the only way the narrative turn makes sense).

And what happened to that deformed kid who looks like Jason Voorhees's half-brother? The worst thing about this twist, however, is that it greatly weakens the film's core transgressive appeal?it turns the taboo-breaking onscreen carnage, a gleeful kick-in-the-butt to the hypocritical Korean piety toward "sacredness of education", into a tearful plea for a misunderstood child.

"Bloody Reunion" is not bad as it is but it could have been so much better, had it have gumption to stick with its initial attitude of defiant, open contempt toward the Korean school experience.

DVD Presentation:

Tartan USA. NTSC. Dual Layer. Region 1. Video: Anamorphic Widescreen, 1.85:1. Audio: Korean (DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1). Subtitle: English, Spanish. Retail Price: $19.99. Released: March 13, 2007.

Part of Tartan USA's wave of Asian Extreme horror releases in Spring and Fall seasons of 2007, "Bloody Reunion" is presented in an average-level transfer for the 2007 Asia Extreme level. Color scheme is lukewarm, tilting toward magenta and blue, and black levels are rather murky. Contrast is not too bad, but details are soft and crushed. The audio is also ho-hum. The DTS track is particularly disappointing. Granted, this might be the problem with the original audio mix, as in a few scenes the character's dialogues are obscured by background noises. English subtitles are surprisingly good, with some onscreen texts also translated, although it does not still quite capture the subtleties of verbal barbs couched in the polite, honorific Korean.

Special features, ported over from the Region 3 release, include a making-of docu, an interview with director Lim Dae-woong, deleted scenes, the original Korean theatrical trailer and a focus on the film's special makeup effects. Director Lim is refreshingly candid and does not attempt to make tiresome claim that he "doesn't like a horror film", like so many Korean first-timers stuck with a handed-down project. The featurette on gore effects is hosted by the supervisor Lee Chang-man, and gives a nice rundown on the film's rather effective Grand Guignol set pieces, including an ingenious method employed to convincingly capture the "stapled eyelid" sequence. It's worth a look for a diehard horror fan.

☆☆☆

2008 OhmyNews
2008 Tartan USA

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