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South Korea 2005

Mystery, Horror, Drama

Yim Pil-sung

Song Kang-ho
Yu Ji-tae
Kim Kyung-ik
Yun Je-moon
Park Hee-soon
Choe Deok-moon
Kang Hye-jeong

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Antarctic Journal

Story: Choe Do-hyung (Song Kang-ho) leads an expedition team that wants to reach the "Point of Inaccessibility" in the Antarctica, one of the world's most inaccessible places. The team consists of Min-jae (Yu Ji-tae), whom Do-hyung treats like a son, the navigator Young-min (Park Hee-soon), the cook Geun-chan (Kim Kyung-ik), the communication expert Seong-hoon (Yun Je-moon) and the electronic devices specialist Jae-kyung (Choe Deok-moon). The six-man team has to struggle with the harsh forces of nature and is subject to a lot of psychological pressure as it can only make contact to the rest of the world via a radio. However, on their expedition the team finds the diary of a british expedition team from over eighty years ago. With time the men realize that there are some obvious parallels between their experience and that which the british team recorded. When the radio contact is dead and the first accident happens madness is spreading among the team members. Do-hyung might have the option to call a rescue plane at any time, but he isn't willing to break off the expedition and let their physical stress be for nothing.

Review: "Antarctic Journal" is a movie that will stay in your memory for a while regardless of what you might think of it. That is on the one hand simply because it plays in the Antarctica and the endlessly wide ice desert can create a very special genuine atmosphere. Director Yim Pil-sung works intensively with the mood in his psychological horror film or thriller that is created by the solitariness of this lifeless world. Therefore, this world of ice seems to be the perfect place to dive into the abyss of the human mind or just to deliver a fresh setting for a horror movie. Unfortunately, that is where a problem arises as Yim doesn't seem to know himself what kind of movie he wanted to make. Accordingly, the biggest flaw is that some small horror film insertions make you doubt over and over again if this is really a movie about the psyche of the characters. Maybe this is actually just a simple horror film that misleads us into believing that it is more than that? Whatever the answer may be, the incoherence that goes hand in hand with this question proves to be a big problem for the movie.

The setting and the isolation of a handful of individuals that aren't trapped in a restricted but in an almost unrestricted place already has a certain appeal to it and also offers enough room for some nice ideas. At the same time the movie inevitably has to remind us of classics like John Carpenter's "The Thing". But as already said, the film doesn't know in which direction it wants to go. Moreover, the endless, mute wanderings through the icy wilderness can be quite tiring, even the more as the dialogues aren't spread throughout the film in an even manner. The comparibly very slow pacing is something you can easily forgive "Antarctic Journal" as only the endless shots of nature and the depiction of how the team faces the forces of nature can create the intense mood that is so important for the story. Sadly, director Yim misses to work with the characters in a suitable way and so there remains an icy partition wall between the viewer and the expedition team members that makes it hard to care for the fate of the individual characters.

Yu Ji-tae ("Oldboy", "Traces of Love") is supposed to be someone the audience can sympathize with, but as a character he is actually especially shallow. As a son-substitute he has a special relationship to Do-hyung, who is played by Song Kang-ho ("Memories of Murder", "The Host"). Song doesn't get a lot of material to work with either, but his subtle acting can make a certain impression when his madness comes more and more to the foreground throughout the movie. Acting-wise the supporting characters are carried in a satisfying way, too, but as already stated there is missing too much. There are too many questions that remain unanswered and the scenes in which you have to draw information out of the dialogues just don't deliver enough material. But there are actually already a few hints at what is only getting apparent in the second half of the movie. Up until that point the film always leads us to expect having a horror movie in front of us. A strange white hand coming out of the ice that is only visible in a video recording, the diary of a former expedition group and some strange organism that is to be found in the ice that the team consumes. Maybe the team is infected with something?

The first half of "Antarctic Journal" can really be creepy as the film slowly builds up tension and plays with the imagination of the viewer. Why is animosity solidifying between the team members, what is the source of the paranioa creeping in and did the british team eighty years ago experience the same things? However, director Yim builds up expectations that he can't meet. Is the movie in the end simply about a man who is willing to risk anything only to prove himself something? In the second half the movie shifts its focus on the psychological drama, but misses completely to satisfyingly dissolve the mysterious occurences of the first half, that stand in contrast to the second, or even pick them up again. Thus, there is a somewhat divided film in the end that especially later on lacks the tension which stood out in the beginning. Partly, Yim can make up for it with some nicely eery sets but that's not enough to fully alleviate the viewer's frustration.

"Antarctic Journal" is a feast for the eyes. The nature with its wide ice landscape shot in New Zealand looks beautiful under the constant sunshine (as you will know there is sunshine for half a year in the Antarctica and another half year of darkness), at other times the pictures look dreadful. The camera angles, the editing, the sets everything is just right and you can't praise enough Yim's fantastic eye for visuals. Together with the subtle but very atmospheric soundtrack by Kenji Kawai (who boldfacedly reused one of the tracks of his "Avalon"-Soundtrack) there is created a very tense atmosphere which could have made a true masterpiece out of the movie. Unfortunately, the script has too many flaws and no real red thread running through it. Horror movie and psychological drama - there isn't anything bad about that kind of mix, but a complete u-turn in the middle of the film simply destroys the story's potential. Moreover, not everyone will get along with the very slow pacing easily. What a pity, because "Antarctic Journal" remains, despite all the circumstances, interesting and could have been something quite extraordinary...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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