Asian horror is without a doubt one of the biggest genres known to international viewers. Korean horror specifically has its hits and misses, but very few movies really manage to go beyond the entertaining type of pop-corn horror. Those that manage something different usually have a strong human drama behind them, but that is still not a guarantee of quality and leaves no surprises by now. "Arang" is an interesting and good enough thriller film and has a bit more to it than your average "light" pastime horror, but certain aspects of it keep it from being great.
Detective So-yeong (Song Yoon-ah) and her new rookie partner, Hyeon-gi (Lee Dong-wook) are handling a case where a victim was killed and then the house set on fire. As they dig in further and another murder happens, they realize the victims are all acquaintances and related to a case that happened ten years ago. What they do not know is that the victims are haunted by a ghost at their time of death. That is until So-yeong starts seeing the dead woman in her dreams.
For horror movies, cinematography and atmosphere matter a lot. In this aspect, "Arang" has some good and bad points. Focusing a bit on the good, there are some nice visual concepts, especially when looking at dream sequences and flashbacks. The whole movie is quite dark and this also helps with its mystery element. As there is an investigation going while the hauntings take place, this is most important, since it is the mystery which is the main focus of the film.
The mystery itself is very interesting and so is the process of solving it, for the most part. The good thing about it is that, while the basic idea of what happened is obvious from the start and typical for such movies, the details of it all and certain revelations about the exact circumstances are kept well hidden until it is time to reveal them. The main characters also add to the work a lot, by being realistic and work oriented individuals. Some works tend to use bickering a lot between female and male characters in such relationships, but the movie plays it straight with So-yeong and Hyeon-gi, making their scenes friendly, but not overly dramatic for the sake of it.
Speaking about the bad points of the horror element and cinematography, it has to be said that the movie is not very strong in its supernatural element. The ghost design and hauntings themselves are not really scary at all and despite some interesting ideas, most of it just does not seem disturbing enough for the genre and is not directed with the special touch it needs to achieve that. There is also the issue of repetition, which just makes the cases increasingly boring, as they follow the same form.
However, the biggest flaw of the film is that it tries to tackle more concepts than it can handle. Without revealing more and spoiling things, this is an issue with a few Korean horror films, where the whole thing becomes too convoluted and leads to contrivance in the plot. Some parts of the crime solving are just too convenient and lacking some investigative logic and this realistic and crime solving part of the work clashes with its horror by the end. The two could have been combined better.
"Arang" is quite a good thriller, above being a horror work. It is really a crime mystery and while the horror does have its place here, it is not the most exciting or intriguing part of things or the most well done. Perhaps this was the idea, creating a movie where viewers get a bit more than just scares and gory scenes, but it was not executed as well as it could have been. Still, this is a good, atmospheric and gripping work and a solid horror mystery many will surely enjoy.
Written by: Orion from 'Orion's Ramblings'
Available on DVD from Amazon
Vasia, also known as Orion or Ori online, is currently doing opinion pieces and database upkeep. She has a love for good TV and a penchant for rambling in written form. Vasia can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Arang""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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