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[DVD Review] "Dead Friend" aka 'Ryung'

2007/06/18 | 785 views | Permalink | Source

Soggy horror film more appropriate for TV drama fans

Kyu Hyun Kim (qhyunkim)

Ji-won (Kim Ha-neul) is a college student stricken by selective amnesia due to a near-drowning experience. The missing memory seems to suggest that she was a close friend with another girl (Nam Sang-mi), but the details remain fuzzy. Meanwhile, her friends, members of a high school clique, are beginning to turn up as dead bodies.

Made in 2004, "Dead Friend" represents the nadir of contemporary Korean horror cinema, ravaged by the strains of a PSC (Pointless Sadako Clone) virus and put together in such a slapdash manner that it might serve as an object lesson in how not to make a generic horror film. (Even the title is super-generic.)

The fact that director Kim Tae-kyung's screenplay is an irritating hodgepodge of plot elements (and scare tactics) stolen wholesale from Nakata Hideo's "Dark Waters" and the most awfully disingenuous and hackneyed setups cribbed from TV dramas is certainly a big problem. The movie, for instance, does absolutely nothing with Ji-won's amnesia as a plot point. There would have been any number of methods to subtly hint at the nature of her traumatic experience, but in "Dead Friend", a doctor simply declares that Ji-won has lost her memory and that is that.

The dialogue is stupefying even by Asian horror film standards: Ji-won and her friend Joo-hyun (Ryu Jin) engage in a seemingly endless series of "worried" conversations in which the dialogue "Something is happening to us" is uttered at least twice.

"Dead Friend" is also one of those films so ineptly and thoughtlessly made that it inadvertently shows signs of accidentally surrealist touches. What is that little girl, for instance, doing in Ji-won's locker? Is the fact that she appears and disappears in her locker supposed to frighten us? What about that aquarium-overrun-by-green-seaweed look that a character's home sports? Was that supposed to call to one's mind a "watery grave" or a badly lit Goth dance club?

Compared to these bewildering sequences, crass scare tactics like a violently shaking camera or gong-like BIG noises designed to make you jump up in your seat are almost forgivable in their familiarity. Ah, and yes, the ghost has lots and lots and lots of black hair, this time WET, DRIPPING black hair. Which we have already seen plenty in "Dark Waters", thank you very much.

I think the only real reason for anyone, inside or outside Korea, to seek out this misfire is to satisfy an interest in the bevy of young adult actresses that dominate the cast. Of course, the experience of watching this film for fans of Kim Ha-neul or Shin Yi will be more akin to an act of collecting baseball cards than watching a movie, since there is little worth noting in their performances, which may not be their fault. The characters they play are all excruciatingly dull or berserk-hysterical and otherwise behave like a live actress impersonating a Japanese anime character. This is definitely not a good vehicle to showcase their acting talents, provided that they indeed have some.

DVD Presentation: Tartan USA. NTSC. Dual Layer. Region 1. Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1. Audio: Korean Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround DTS. Subtitles: English, Spanish.

Tartan USA is releasing "Dead Friend" along with more recent Korean horror flicks "Bloody Reunion" (re-titled from "To Sir with Love"), "Arang" and "Cinderella". The film's transfer is quite good, even superior to the Korean Region 3 version, with high bit rates and a contrast level adjusted toward moderate blacks. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also engineered well: too bad the sound design is so cliched, and Pinocchio's music score is nothing more than a potpourri of sampled tunes (at one point BGM from, of all movies, "JSA - Joint Security Area" is heard).

Subtitles also seem to have been cleaned up, with a few annoying "wholly unnecessary culturally analogous" translations (a college entrance examination being referred to as "SATs", for instance) eliminated in the process, although it is hard to tell precisely, given the shallow quality of the dialogue. The DVD also comes with a short "making-of" documentary and an interview of Kim Ha-neul, which should please her fans. The theatrical trailer, TV spots and trailers for Tartan Extreme releases round out supplementary features.

2007 OhmyNews

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