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Original Title:

South Korea 2007

Horror, Drama

Jeong Beom-sik
Jeong Sik

Jin Ku
Lee Dong-gyoo
Ko Joo-yeon
Kim Tae-woo
Kim Bo-kyung
Jeon Mu-song
Ji Yeo
Kim Eung-su
Uhm Ji-won
Park Ji-a
Ye Soo-jung
David McInnis

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Story: In the year 1942 strange things happen at the Ahn Seng Hospital. The body of a Japanese soldier is found, and soon the leading investigator finds out that the culprit must be a serial killer who won't stop until he is apprehended.
Jung-nam (Jin Ku), a medical student, has his own share of problems, however. The manager of the hospital, who is like a mother to him, wants to marry her daughter to him, even though he never met the daughter even once. Moreover, when the dead body of a young girl arrives at the autopsy room, something strange happens. Jung-nam falls in love with the dead girl...
Meanwhile, the physician Soo-in (Lee Dong-gyoo) takes care of the girl Asako (Ko Joo-yeon), who is haunted by gruesome nightmares, as she is the sole survivor of a car accident in which her parents lost their lives.
The investigation revolving around the serial killer is finally undergoing some progress when the neurologist Dong-won (Kim Tae-woo) starts to suspect his wife In-young (Kim Bo-kyung). Sometimes when he wakes up she isn't in bed. And what's even the more disturbing: She doesn't have any shadow...

Review: It has been quite a while since an Asian horror film set foot on unknown terrain in order to scare its audience. Up until now it was all about ghosts with long black hair, that are supposed to scare us with the help of a sudden burst of sound volume, and then bore us with the same old story of a dead vengeful girl who died under tragic circumstances. "Epitaph" almost feels like a salvation. The story might be getting somewhat complicated and at times is told rather confusingly, but behind that there is an intelligent, profound story about dead, love and guilt. In fact, there are three stories, which all take place at the same hospital, which creates a hard to define nostalgic feeling with its great sets, and really convinces you to that this all happening during Korea's 40s. The wonderful cinematography and the many small details the filmmakers had an eye on are especially impressive. Therefore, "Epitaph" is a rewarding movie in many respects, which actually delivers everything we would want of a horror film.

You can't overlook that "Epitaph" inevitably has to remind you of "A Tale of Two Sisters". Having said this, it just underlines how much credit the film deserves, even if it can't fully reach the expertise of the former masterwork. But "Epitaph" impresses with a similarly beautiful picture composition. The shots all look surprisingly romantic and almost dreamy. Which is no wonder as the film itself seems to be a mix of a horror movie and a romantic drama. Of course, the horror part predominates, but the motif of love in its many forms and shapes is worked into the film very well, and is even in the center of all three stories.
The dreamlike pictures stand out with scenes of a snow covered small town during the 40s, and most of all with the set of a small hospital, which can create an almost warm, yet also depressing feeling with the heavy timber floor board and the opulently ornated furnitures. Thus, "Epitaph" oftentimes is also described as a gothic horror film, and rightly so. Moreover, there are also some dream sequences, that are quite memorable thanks to their creativeness.

One certain scene, in which the life of a couple is outlined, is brought onto stage by depicting a Japanese room in which the shoji-doors open behind the protagonists, giving us a glance at their life at a later stage, whereas another pair of doors open to make a time jump once again.
Technically the movie is absolutely top-notch! The beautifully composed classical soundtrack, that contains many dreamy pieces, really adds to the extraordinary magic of this movie, because, as already said, "Epitaph" oftentimes proves to be a movie that centers around the yearning of the characters for love. The kind of love, that is so strong, that it can even overcome death... and drag you down into a world of nightmares.
Horror fans will also get what they are looking for. It has been quite a while since a movie could give me the chills as effective as "Epitaph" did. And more than anything else it's the subtle scenes that are creepy and intense, not the rather obvious shocking moments, in which ghosts jump at us in different shapes. Nonetheless, even scenes of the latter kind are very effectively implemented and are even original at times.

One memorable scene is when Dong-won realizes that his wife doesn't have a shadow. The cinematic expertise put into this scene is what's making it so incredibly creepy. Dong-won moves a light bulb through the room and the shadows, that awaken to almost unnatural life, crawl through the room, which bestows an impressive dynamic tension upon this scene, that stands in strong contrast to the motionless In-young, who simply has no shadow at all. The following scenes with her are also full of nice special effects that make her have no shadow at any time.
The story around Asako is surely the most horror-intense one, which is also thanks to the nice acting effort of Ko Joo-yeon, who makes the horror and nightmares the little girl experiences seem very credible and terrifying. The expression of her face when she is swallowed by darkness and runs panically to the last remaining source of light, is one you won't forget so soon. However, apart from that "Epitaph" can also be quite violent and bloody at times. In fact, the movie covers any area of horror. And thus there are also some disgusting scenes with cut-off heads etc. to be found here.

Still, "Epitaph" has one big problem. And that's the story, which is oftentimes told in a very confusing fashion. You won't have it easy to follow, which is also because of the movie jumping through many time levels, or at other times simply coming up with a dream sequence without a word of warning. Furthermore, we oftentimes get to look at things through the eyes of one certain character, so that we can never be too sure if it's real what we see or not, and for what reason we get to see it. Moreover, it takes a while until we realize that this isn't one story, but three that are loosely connected through the same motif, the same hospital and a few characters. It's rather late that we find this out, and then it becomes a bit bothersome that there isn't one universal character you can relate to. Nevertheless, all in all the film can actually stand as a whole. This surely wasn't an easy task, but the directors, who call themselves "Jung Brothers", pulled it off.
The seemingly unstructured story only makes sense towards the end, and after that you have to watch the whole movie before your inner eye again, in order to understand certain aspects and happenings retrospectively. Anyway, it would be best to watch the movie a second time, because only then you will be able to completely grasp certain revelations.

"Epitaph" successfully plays with the expectations of the viewer, and thus can positively surprise us with some of its revelations. The story is complex and intelligent, so that you will be quite busy to follow the events on screen. Boredom isn't anything you'll experience with such a movie, especially not since there are many shocking moments that will make you jump off your chair.
The debut of the Jung Brothers is really overwhelming thanks to many nightmarish, odd, yet in a way always beautiful, and at times even romantic pictures.
The stories around love between life and death are of a good variety, and yet fit together. The disturbing pictures are aesthetically and very well crafted, and can also convince any horror fan. "Epitaph" successfully combinese horror with drama, and wonderful cinematography with a great score, so that you will be quite impressed with the end result. Despite a story that is told a bit to confusingly, this remains a piece of art that truely stands as something special. Since "A Tale of Two Sisters" this is most likely the smartest and most beautiful Asian horror film I've seen. Therefore, I'm easily willing to be more generous when it comes to the overall score.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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