Monday, October 19, 2009

HAMSTERIAN HALLOWEEN COUNTDOWN: THE KOREANS USE LESS WORDS AND MORE SCENERY


i wrote the following review on june 23, 2008 and published it on another site i once managed. good review, if i do say so myself. this is one of my all-time favorite films. totally beautiful. absolutely soul-wrenching. i cannot say enough good things about this. and even though i dreaded the american remake, i ended up really enjoying THE UNINVITED as well. now i own both, and i'm looking forward to a double feature night to play the korean original next to the american remake. john and i agree on A TALE OF TWO SISTERS.

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After one viewing of Kim Ji-Woon’s A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (2003), I knew this film was prime candidate for an American remake. As is, the film is too slow and complex for American audiences. So I searched the film on-line and, sure enough, THE UNINVITED, a re-titled American version of this brilliant South Korean film, will hit American theatres January 2009.


This is what we do these days: we remake really good horror films from Asia for American audiences. By remake, I do not mean that we look to them for inspiration or new ideas – no, we completely translate them into our language, expectations and blonde haired faces. Same script. Same exact plot. Even at times, as in the case of THE GRUDGE and THE RING, same Asian directors. The few changes made usually dumb them down to suit genre-spoiled Americans.


In A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, Kim Ji-Woon has not created what Americans typically consider pulse-stopping horror. Rather, he crafts a visual fairy tale, complete with fairy tale tenets and torments: two young girls; an evil stepmother; a heavy-browed father incapacitated by guilt; a beautiful house looming with shadows in the brightest light of day; a haunting family secret. This modernized Korean folktale develops slowly, focusing on its characters while exploring the shaky foundations between memory and actuality. This form of cinematic storytelling stands in stark opposition to typical American horror that bounces between cheap scares, gratuitous sexuality, gory special effects, and quippy one-liners.


Don’t get me wrong: I love modern American horror as much as any dude sporting a Michael Myers t-shirt from Hot Topic. These films are great. They’re fun. But, admittedly, they leave something to be desired, something meatier and more complex than leather aprons and dolls with swirly cheeks. And it’s because we are in this rut of remakes and shallow storied torture-porn that we look to other countries to fill-in our gaps.


Kim Ji-Woon’s A TALE OF TWO SISTERS - void of American gore, sexuality and fast-paced effects - requires more from its audience than listless viewership. It requires the ability to suspend both reality and expectation, to leave questions unanswered and the thin scrim curtain between life and after-life swaying with rips in the fabric. Good storytelling requires good story reception: allowing the fairy tale to utterly unravel and remain heaped on the ground at our feet.


What unravels in American theatres January 2009, with yet another Asian remake, will serve as commentary on America’s expectations of film. After all, this is what we do these days: we mindlessly translate foreign literary explorations into big-screen money makers. What becomes lost in translation will only be regained when we learn to view foreign art for what it is, not what it could be in American hands. Until that day, it’s the same script. The same exact plot. Planting our flag in another person’s front lawn, hell, that’s just the American way.

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