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Original Title:

South Korea 2006

Horror, Thriller

Ahn Sang-hoon

Song Yun-ah
Lee Dong-wook
Lee Jong-su
Jeong Won-jung
Kim Ok-bin
Choo So-yeong

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Story: Detective So-young (Song Yun-ah) has to work on a strange case. A man suffocates in his own house, even though there is no sign of any external influence. During the autopsy, the investigators find out that the man must have been poisoned from inside his body, which can't be possibly according to what they've come to know so far. So-young continues chasing after further evidence, but is soon called to another crime scene, where a similar murder has occurred. Along with her new partner Hyun-ki (Lee Dong-wook), who was transferred from the forensics department to the homicide squad at his own request, she follows a clue that leads her to an old salt house in a rural town. Both, the first and the second victim were involved in an incident several years ago, in which an adolescent was beaten to death. Shortly afterwards, the dead boy's girlfriend disappeared, too.
It seems obvious that the perpetrator is the missing girl's restless ghost, which now tries to take revenge, and the rumors about the cursed salt house back up this theory, too. But the investigators don't want to settle for this story. In fact, it turns out that there seems to be more to it than first meets the eye…

Review: "Arang" is one of those movies where false and high-wrought expectations are able to ruin the movie in advance. Apparently, this is what seems to have happened to many viewers, though I haven't noticed such a big hype about this movie, which on the other hand makes it much easier for me to judge from a more objective point of view. Well, it doesn't really make things easier, as "Arang" really has some inexcusable weaknesses, even if it can offer more than we may acknowledge it for at the beginning. The plot about a ghost dressed all in black with long hair only makes us moan painfully as it are exactly those cliché-ridden and shamelessly snitched scenes, which prevent the movie from being any better than average. Even though, there really are some good approaches.

For starters, the way they get behind the ghost's secret may fascinate. As this time, there are two investigators, who chase after the ghost by means of analytic methods (more or less) and pieces of evidence they find at the crime scenes. A lot of people may actually enjoy this and mostly the atmosphere also manages to remind us of a well-done crime-thriller, but every time the ghost appears, which occurs in numerous repetitive scenes, the entire atmosphere is destroyed and you get aware, that you just are in an Asian B-horror-movie. The opening sequence is a very good example, it is so bad and trashy that we think the movie might never get its act together. But the two very charismatic investigators save the movie. Although, it doesn't change the fact, that the horror sequences are anything but scary.

An old grudge, a murder that has been kept secret and several ingredients typical for this genre can't even scare a little child anymore. Here we have a (cursed?) website, ghosts, which can only be seen through cameras or in mirror reflections and on top of that there's also a scene in an elevator ("The Eye" anyone?) - we get the entire cliché-package. Strangely enough, the movie still doesn't manage to scare us at least once, which movies even worse than this one seem to achieve without a problem. The ghost sequences are boring, get repeated too often and sometimes even seem ridiculous. Which sounds the death knell for every horror movie.
But on the other hand, the story makes up for a lot of that. The investigation is exciting most of the time, the numerous twists work out extraordinarily well, and we constantly get hints during the movie, without really noticing. In addition we have to use our head and pay attention to the events on screen in order to keep track of the story until the end.

Unfortunately there are also some weaknesses in the script. We have to deal with some minor logic errors and the protagonists have some jumpy and incomprehensible sudden inspirations, too, for instance when Yo-soung digs up a buried dog. Why it is the former forensic doctor, of all people, who is disgusted by dissecting the dog, is another story…
We can very easily relate to the investigators and the chemistry between the two is just right most of the time, too. Concerning their acting performance, there's only one problem: Song Yun-ah. She's supposed to be the tough cop with a manly touch, but she just seems far too vulnerable and playful to convince us. Sure, her character radiates a certain amount of charisma, but the role just doesn't work for her, which we can see on more than just one occasion. Lee Dong-wook on the other hand is very convincing playing her partner. But it is saying a lot that Jeong Won-jung, who appears only in one of the supporting roles as the principle easily outacts the two of them.

For not conveying a false impression, it has to be pointed out that "Arang" never really gets boring, maybe apart from those specific ghost-sequences and a little part in the middle of the movie. Especially towards the end, it becomes pretty obvious that Ahn Sang-hoon's movie debut sticks to current rules. It's just when we think that maybe it's not about a ghost but rather a mundane murderer taking advantage of some Korean folk tales, that the movie loses itself in cliché-driven patterns again, delivering a last "scary" sequence at the end. Don't be mislead, because "Arang" is just a horror-movie, nothing else, even if it would have done much better to try to be a cop-thriller.

One has to appreciate the fact that the cinematography is done quite differently than what we're used to see. Not so "superimposed" but rather more natural with a lot of bright light, but also with many dark and rainy shots. Some images may even have a religious connotation, but all this gets lost in the cliché-ridden ghost-plot. "Arang" is really a tough nut to crack. "Benefit of the doubt"? I really would have liked to say so, because you can have a nice time with this movie. But more than anything else, "Arang" wants to be a horror-movie and that's where it completely fails. Therefore, it's not good enough for a recommendation, yet maybe one or two cop-thriller-fans will give it a try.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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