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South Korea 2004

Horror, Thriller, Drama

Yoo Sang-Gon

Shin Hyeon-jun
Song Yun-ah
Chang Suk-Won
An Seok-Hwan
Kim Seung-wook
Jo Won-hui
Song Jae-ho
Lee Ju-ran
Han Ye-rin
Hong Su-a
Son Cheong-jo

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Story: Lee Hyeon-min (Shin Hyeon-jun) works for the police. He restores the faces of victims that can't be identified anymore. However, even though his boss offers him that in the future he may work at home as a face reconstructor, Shin rejects the proposal. The reason is his daughter, who just had received a heart transplantation. She isn't doing well, and she's getting worse with every day, although the doctor who takes care of her assures Shin that everything is fine with her.
At the same time a serial killer is striking terror into people's hearts, as he dissolves his victims in an acid basin. The police has no clue about the motive, but soon gets to the conclusion that the dissolving in acid is done to hide that the victims were stripped of their inner organs. The only one who can help them now is Shin, but he isn't available anymore.
One day female colleague Jeong Seon-yeong (Song Yun-ah) knocks at Shin's door with a skull in her hands. Shin immediately makes plain to her, that he isn't working anymore, but Seon-yeong manages with her pushy way to convince Shin that he should at least take a look at the skull. When he is also haunted by a ghost, who apparently wants that the skull gets its identity back, Shin is back in action, and thus the police is also hot on the trail of the killer again.

Review: "Face" is an odd horror movie. We get everything we would expect from a clichéloaden Asian horror flick, yet the film actually wants to be a gloomy thriller in the end. At least that's the impression you get. Still, this genre mixture doesn't work out, and the drama that finds its way into the movie every now and then also doesn't convince the audience. It's almost as if director Yoo Sang-Gon really wanted to make a different movie, but was only given the money to make a horror film. This is most likely so because filmmakers in Korea were (and still are) relying on horror flicks during summer time, as they guarantee for some easy money. The unfocusedness of the movie, resulting from the fact of "money making vs. true vision of the director", is enormous, since the confusing script soon gets quite annoying with its many logical gaps. Also, the film simply doesn't feel as a whole.

If you look at it a little bit closer, you will realize that this film is actually a thriller, which just got some ghost scenes written to it later on. Every time when the ghost suddenly pops up behind Shin in a mirror, or crawls out of the floor, we ask us how this is supposed to fit into the story. Then, towards the end, we understand that all of those ghost scenes are absolutely irrelevant and only aim at creating some cheap scare moments. Granted, all those who haven't already seen the umpteenth "Ring" clone might jump off their chairs during some of the supposedly creepy scenes, but the fright-moments truely are anything but inventive. Unless you would call a ghost that is mirrored in the middle of its body, and which comes crawling at you, inventive in any form. Or a ghost that crawls along the ceiling. The pictures itself might feel somewhat creepy at times, but that's all there is in the end.

The thriller within the movie isn't any better. We already know after a few minutes into the movie, who the real culprit is (at least we believe to know) and the script writers use this to leave us in erroneous belief, just to present us with the true killer later on, of whom we nearly saw nothing in the movie before. But the script writers even fail here, as when every riddle is dissolved, the first suspect actually proves to be the killer, eventually. Believe me, it doesn't make any difference if you know that or not, therefore this is no spoilering on my part.
It's also not a smart move, that the viewer knows more than the protagonists. It would have been easy enough for us to figure out, that the whole case is about the hearts of the victims, which are needed for important operations. But the director even shows the extraction of a heart from one of the victims during the movie's first minutes to leave no doubt about it...
Moreover, there is also the drama part between Lee and his sick daughter, who also has lost her mother a few years ago. Sadly, there is also no emotional involvement aroused in the audience. Furthermore, we have to ask ourselves what exactly changed for the little girl that she joyfully starts to jump around later on. Is it because she isn't haunted by a ghost anymore? A ghost, which actually didn't want to hurt her anyway as we get to understand, and which really could have taken on a physical form less frightening than a body lying on the ceiling...

At the end, "Face" comes up with a twist, that defies any logic, which wasn't something the movie had much of to begin with. This is proof once again that the work lacks any sort of continuity.
Actor Shin Hyeon-jun ("Guns & Talks", "Shadowless Sword") tries his best to give his character at least a few edges, so that he actually succeeds in depicting an individual the viewer can relate to at times.
Song Yun-ah ("Arang") seems a bit annoying at the beginning, but she soon can win over the audience with her very special kind of character. The friendship that slowly starts to evolve between Lee and Jeong, is surprisingly credible, especially since the filmmakers didn't go for a banal romantic story.
It's fun to watch Lee doing his face reconstruction work, and every now and then there are also some more tension-packed scenes, but in the end the movie simply proves to be disappointing.

The reason for this disappointment is, as already stated, the incredibly muddled script and several logical gaps. With its running time of merely 80+ minutes, "Face" is surprisingly short, but not really compact, as there are numerous slow-downs, which make the pacing unnecessarily tedious. Moreover, the pictures don't look as polished as we are used to see it from Korean horror movies these days. But then again, this doesn't put the film in a negative light. What does is the oftentimes unoriginal directing.
There is only little tension in this horror thriller. Even the rather well done score can't change that. When all is said and done "Face" is simply nice evening entertainment. Especially its short running time deserves some small words of praise, even the more as the film actually feels a bit longer (which can also be seen as a point of criticism). The two main characters fortunately can keep you somewhat interested in the film. Still, "Face" is too predictable in the end. Even worse it's full of unnecessary insertions of ghosts with long black hair. This is no film for thriller fans, and horror enthusiasts won't find anything new about this flick either. Nonetheless, you can get some trivial minutes of entertainment out of this movie, if you don't expect anything extraordinary (or even ordinary). But that's simply not enough.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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