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Original Title:

South Korea / Vietnam 2007

Horror, Drama

Kim Tae-kyeong

Jo An
Cha Ye-ryeon
Hong So-hee
Lee Joon
Lim Seong-eon
Anh Thu
Anh Hong
Kim Yong-tae
Ko Dong-yeob
Binh Minh
Oh Hye-ji

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Muoi: Legend of a Portrait

Story: Yoon-hee (Jo An) is a writer whose editor finally wants to see another book of her. The pressure gets so enormous that she decides to go after an old legend in Vietnam. She believes that the story around the girl Muoi who is said to be able to put a curse on the local inhabitants as a ghost delivers good material for her next book. She goes to Vietnam and meets with her old friend Seo-yeon (Cha Ye-ryeon) with whom she grew apart several years ago. There were some bad rumors surrounding Seo-yeon which is why she emigrated to Vietnam. However, Seo-yeon apparently doesn't seem to know that Yoon-hee wrote a not that flattering book about her former friend.
With Seo-yeon's help Yoon-hee investigates the legend around Muoi and finds out that hundred years ago the mysterious girl fell in love with a painter who was already married, though. His wife learned about their affair and disfigured Muoi's face with acid. Muoi commited suicide and since that day seeked revenge as a ghost until she got sealed away in a picture by monks. But that seal doesn't keep her prisoner forever...

Review: Innovation is something you maybe shouldn't look for in a horror movie. That, we know of already. Asian cinema solely varies the Sadako-principle of "The Ring" while Hollywood goes back in time to the 80s slashers. Enriching the horror-genre? No chance. "Muoi" is no exception here. According to well-tried formulas the story is woven around the restless spirit that seeks revenge and there is only a minimal variation that isn't worth talking about. Nevertheless, the mixture of horror and drama works out pretty well and most of all the settings of this Korean-vietnamese co-production can score some points. You also get the feeling that the characters were granted a little bit more color than usual, but it's still not enough to call it a new path and the filmmakers also don't try to wander a new one. Which doesn't mean, though, that the film wouldn't be entertaining. In fact, the atmosphere can convince and the story is interesting enough to keep you hooked until the end, that is if you don't expect anything new.

Director Kim Tae-kyeong is no newcomer, he already shot "Dead Friend", a horror film that was made according to the same formula but was reviewed by me more generously because of the simple fact that the subject wasn't that hackneyed at that time. "Muoi" on the other hand has to deal with some more harsh words because as a director you should be willing to leave the cinematic territory familiar to you and improve yourself. Kim Tae-kyeong doesn't do that and that becomes especially apparent during the twist and the last picture, that should be frightenly familiar to those who have seen his previous work. Concerning the story there are some flaws, anyway. Thus, we know from the very beginning that Seo-yeon is hiding something and has some sort of connection to Muoi, maybe is even possessed by her spirit. The reason for that is also immediately apparent. She has read the book of Yoon-hee which deals about her in an outermost bad way and now she herself wants vengeance. Of course, there are one or two twists coming along the way, but it's still incomprehensible how the director could throw in all those informations right from the start.

Nonetheless, there is an interesting fact about "Muoi" as we actually root more for Seo-yeon and Muoi than for the writer Yoon-hee. That's because Yoon-hee is obviously only caring about her work and doesn't want to know anything from her friend, she therefore merely uses her as a means to an end. Seo-yeon's attempts to talk about their mutual past are immediately blocked by Yoon-hee and she always steers their conversations towards the legend of Muoi so that she can wrap up her work for the book as soon as possible. Especially later on when we get to know more about the motive why Seo-yeon emigrated to Vietnam she has the viewer's sympathy, even though she can without a doubt be quite scary at times and we don't know what to think of her on other occasions. The drama and the subtle emotions that are unfolding between the two former friends, and at some points have to be guessed by the audience, add a lot to the film, also concerning the thrill factor.

The story around the ghost itself is, as already said, just a variation of the already familiar theme. This time the video from "The Ring" gets replaced by a picture. And there are some logical gaps becoming apparent, especially after the twist which is why we get everything but a flawless overall picture at the end.
The shocking effects in "Muoi" are sometimes implemented quite subtly, at other times, though, there are those distorted faces suddenly jumping at you that are so typical for such movies, whereas the effects themselves deserve a word of praise, however. The atmosphere is tense and that's first and foremost thanks to the beautiful sets. Director Kim Tae-kyeong brings the beauty of Vietnam's scenery to bear very well, from temples to the colorful colonial buildings. He also put quite some efforts into the flashbacks so that besides the sets the costumes are also real eye candy. In technical respects, there is nothing to complain about.

It would have been nice if the horror had originated in the growing guilty conscience of Yoon-hee towards Seo-yeon. This element is without a doubt part of the film and Jo An ("Wishing Stairs") as well as Cha Ye-ryeon ("Voice") can also deliver good acting efforts but it's never beyond doubt that there is a ghost behind everything in the end. The most effective scenes are those in which the two girls are sitting at the same table while a creepy tension builds up between them. Towards the end "Muoi" delivers more action though, lacks the coherence and the flow of the beginning and middle part and instead goes for an ending that more feels like an epilogue. Therefore, the ending is most likely the most frustrating part of the movie because of its bumpy presentation. Nonetheless, you get without a doubt technically good horror entertainment that is just what fans of the genre were waiting for and for those viewers who don't fall into that category the sets and pictures will guarantee a neat pastime.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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