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Original Title:

South Korea 2003

Horror, Thriller, Drama

Park Ki-Hyung

Shim Hye-jin
Kim Jin-geun
Mun Oh-bin
Jeong Na-yoon

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Story: Mi-sook (Shim Hye-jin) is pushing 40, but she and her husband Kim Do-il (Kim Jin-geun) seem to be unable to get a child. After a long discussion, Do-il manages to persuade her of adopting a child. At an adopting agency Mi-sook finds a picture she still remembers from her time in an elementary school. The picture was drawn by little Jin-seong (Mun Oh-bin). The boy is a bit shy, but Mi-sook immediately falls in love with him and adopts him. Finally, Mi-sook, Do-il and their new son are a real family. But luck doesn't endure very long. Jin-seong behaves strange and thinks that the acacia in their garden is the incarnation of his biological mother. When Mi-sook suddenly gets pregnant, the real drama is just about to begin. Jin-seong fears, not without good reason, to fade into the background, and when he then even tries to choke his little brother, it seems that not only his mean grandmother wants to return him. But suddenly, Jin-seong disappears and drives a wedge into the family. Do-il and Mi-sook start acting weirder and weirder and the acacia-tree in the front garden seems to develop a life of its own…

Review: "Acacia" is a psycho-thriller full of atmosphere and some horror-movie elements. Unfortunately, it was only titled a horror movie and that's where "Acacia" falters. However, there are some shocking moments, but they only distinguish themselves by the sound level's rapid rising and a decent score. My advice: Turn off the sound, and laugh about the supposedly scary scene, when, for example, a woolen thread crawls over the bed.
But we don't want to be unfair, director Park Ki-Hyungs ("Whispering Corridors") actually deserves more commendation than some criticisms want to acknowledge him. For starters, there is the amazing cinematography, with its resulting tense atmosphere. Then there is also the quite exciting story. The downfall of a family, which behaves strangely because of a big secret, until its members start fighting each other. All this is fun to watch and proves once more, that repression never leads to a happy ending. Or does it? We don't want to give away too much, at this point…

Concerning atmosphere, "Acacia" moves towards "A Tale of Two Sisters", but never reaches its quality. But the almost European-like house, the furniture and the lightning, always have a charming effect. Especially the color scheme was thoroughly explored, different filters were used to perfectly catch the atmosphere. The movie manages to get darker and darker and more depressive in its atmosphere as the plot progresses. Furthermore, one skillfully implemented some camera-tricks as it turns and rotates around the protagonist, zooms in on faces and sometimes even causes nausea when the acuity controller is used in a constant manner. Somehow the images appear to be shot in some kind of trance, which can get the viewer a bit lost. But in a positive way. Technically you can't really criticize anything. One moment, the acacia stands threateningly and dead in the garden, the next, its blossoms change into blood red and we can't expect anything good to happen. Artistically demanding and sometimes quite creepy, are the scenes in which rooms are completely hung out with red wool, that's for sure. This proves, that with some clever images not only good atmosphere is created, but one also can make a somewhat appealing movie.

Nevertheless, all these sophisticated image-compositions are sorely needed as the film is not really fast-paced. Those who have no problem with loosing themselves in a movie won't have a problem with it, but everybody else will possibly have to struggle with boredom. Actually, there's not much happening in "Acacia" and interest is only held up by the character's strange behavior and some dream- and horror-sequences here and there. But you are always eager to attentively follow the events, as we all know since "A Tale of Two Sisters" that even the most insignificant scenes, can have a very important meaning. But that's not the case in this movie. We expect it to be more intelligent than what it finally turns out to be: unfortunately "just" an interesting movie.
The resolution at the end, however, is quite appealing, although not entirely surprising, and the characters' behavior and some previous strange scenes finally make sense. Even if the answer to it all is quite simple in the end, it's still fascinating.

The movie's biggest weakness, however, lies in the protagonists. They all seem pretty distant, cold and almost lifeless. Almost poker-faced, they go through the motions of their fiasco, and even if this imbues the movie and the characters with something unseizable and mysterious, it makes the viewer feel incredibly distant himself. It also creates the unintended funny scene, where Mi-sook's mother tells her daughter, she would look much better than before. Big question mark not only for me, but at least also for one other person, who pointed out in his review that the actress Shim Hye-jin had the same inexpressive and dark look on her face, as she has had during the entire movie. Only in some few, a bit more emotional moments, you can nearly detect something like nuances in her face acting.
The grandparents demonstrate a nice exception to this acting quality, but especially the two young actors in this movie prove some skills. Jeong Na-yoon as the neighbor's child Min-jee becomes friends with the somehow creepy Mun Oh-bin, who plays his character in an impenetrable and mysterious way. In this respect, the grown-ups can still learn a lot from the little ones!

A tree, which claims to be the dominating horror-element in the movie, several dream-sequences and a dark soundtrack lead the viewer astray. "Acacia" is no real horror-movie, as the horror only seems to be happening in the protagonists' heads. Everyone who rather expects a dramatic thriller with some supernatural elements will have much more fun with this movie than the horror-fan.
Without a doubt, Park's work has its weaknesses, but at some points it can also score, for example with its amazing cinematography and its narrating style. At the end of the movie, the resolution is presented in a very nice way of switching between time-levels, and suddenly you see the movie in an entirely different light. If only the rest weren't so inapproachable…
To conclude, hopefully you can give "Acacia" a chance, because in fact it isn't such a bad movie, at all.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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