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Original Title:
Orora gongju

South Korea 2005

Thriller, Drama

Bang Eun-jin

Eom Jeong-hwa
Mun Seong-kun
Kwon Oh-jung
Choi Jong-won
Hyeon Yeong
Kim Yong-geon
Nam Oh-jeong
Jeong Eun-pyo
Park Hyo-jun
Yu Hye-jeong
Park Kwang-jung

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Princess Aurora

Story: A strange series of murders takes place in Korea. There seems to be no connection between the different victims, except a small sticker from the cartoon character "Princess Aurora" that is found at every crime scene. What the police hasn't found out, yet, is that Jung Sun-jung (Eom Jeong-hwa) doesn't choose her victims randomly, but picks them very accurately as if she wanted to take revenge for something. But revenge for what?
Detective Oh Sung-ho (Mun Seong-kun), who is studying to finally become a priest, and his partner (Kwon Oh-jung) are working on the serial murder case. Still, they can't seem to make any progress. However, Oh eventually thinks that Jung Sun-jung might be behind the murders. Oh is withholding information until he is a hundred percent sure, that Jung is the wanted killer, as she is actually his ex-wife with whom he had a daughter, who had been murdered a while ago. Maybe Jung is taking revenge for her daughter's death? But how are all the victims linked to the tragic murdering of Jung's daughter? Oh and Jung finally meet and after that things are pretty obvious for Oh, even if he lacks the proof to arrest Jung. However, as the killings go on, it seems that Jung is almost pleading to be put behind bars, as she is leaving behind more and more clues at the crime scenes...

Review: "Princess Aurora" is a well-done thriller which also is a welcome change to the numerous romantic comedies and dramas that come out of Korea nowadays. In the center of events we have a woman, who is taking revenge on the murderers of her daughter. Which might somehow remind us of "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance". "Princess Aurora", however, seems to have eluded many viewers, which is really a shame. That is because the story of this movie is quite good, the direction, as well as the pictures are top and the performance of incredibly versatile Eom Jeong-hwa also adds to the high quality level of this film.

The movie kicks off with a very bloody and brutal scene. One of Jung's victims is stabbed with a pinlike weapon, whereas we get to see quite a lot of details. Except from a similarly gory scene towards the end, there isn't really that much violence. Nevertheless, this way the moviemakers make sure that the audience gets aware that they can never foresee what might happen next. Also surprising are some short sex-scenes.
The atmosphere and mood of the movie are working in favor of the overall picture, and with its gloomy scenes builds up exactly the kind of framework that is needed in order to be enthralling and not letting off the viewer until the very end. Female director Bang Eun-jin, who was also working as an actress before, proves in her debut that she has a surprisingly steady hand concerning the composition of pictures. She knows how to imbue the film with polished visuals and a high quality level. Everything looks top-notch, here.

The plot is quite thrilling. too. We get to see the events from Jung's perspective and at first we even don't know why she is killing all these people. Anyway, you can sort of suspect from the start that a tragic incident might have caused Jung to do what she does, which also means that we can't really identify ourselves with her, yet also feel sympathy with her. It's stirring until the end to speculate about the motive of her actions, even though there are actually enough hints scattered throughout the movie for us to get behind it on our own, eventually. Still, at the end there is yet another well working twist, that links everything together to a complete whole.
It might seem a bit too contrived that of all people the investigating police detective Oh is no one else but the ex-husband of the killer, and moreover you have to ask yourself, why he didn't suspect his ex-wife sooner, yet it's easy to forgive the script flaws like this, as we generally get more than enough to be engaged and sit through the whole movie quite thrilled. In the end, you have to ask yourself why Jung is leaving behind so many clues, but satisfyingly we also get an answer for this, so that luckily there are nearly no questions left unanswered at the end.

Eom Jeong-hwa is really an impressive actress. Her appearance and her sex-appeal make her portray certain character models in various rom-coms, but that's also where she is absolutely unchallanged. As she already displayed in "Marriage is a Crazy Thing" she is a talented actress and more than that also a versatile one. She manages with seemingly no effort to master the difficult task of the script to carry the movie almost on her own. The tragedy that made her the way she is and her vulnerability are written on her face in certain scenes. At other times, however, she carries out her scheme of revenge with a dreadfully cold face. Jung's character isn't an easy one to get behind, and even when we finally know of her background, she somehow remains an ambivalent character. We grant her having her revenge and empathize with her, yet we know, that the things she does just aren't right. It's difficult to portray such a person with the necessary amount of credibility, especially as the script-writers messed up a bit and didn't elobarate the character as much as it deserved. Nonetheless, Eom easily manages to make up for it with her great acting talent.

Eom's superb performance sadly is in strong need as Mun Seong-kun, for example, seems a bit too shallow as detective Oh. We only get to know little about him, and apart from that he also seems a bit distant and cold most of the time. The viewer never can weave an emotional bond to him, which is a shame, because this could have made the relationship between Oh and Jung a lot more interesting, and could also have served as a tension-filler. It's the same with the rest of the cast. The side characters aren't well elaborated either. For example there is Oh's partner, played by Kwon Oh-jung ("Tube"), who is an important wheel in the movie's story at the beginning, but has to take a backseat the more the film progresses. It's almost as if the script just forgot about him. This is no exception at all, and so despite all the praise for the script you have to criticize that "Princess Aurora" could have become a lot more engaging. There are a lot of missed opportunities, here. Sometimes there is just too much distance between the viewer and the events on screen.

"Princess Aurora" may not tell a completely new story, the kind we haven't seen somewhere else already, but it's still wrapped-up pretty good and appealing. Especially on a visual level the movie is almost without any flaws. It's enthralling to accompany Jung on her campaign of vengeance and disturbing to see how far she goes to achieve her goal. She is a broken character, who however never crossed the border to becoming a psychopatic killer. Which is why we can understand the motives of her actions in the end. Eom Jeong-hwa might be the reason why the movie works better than it should, as there are a lot of negligences on character level. These negligences devalue the movie a bit, but nevertheless, "Princess Aurora" proves to be a captivating and engaging thriller, that can be quite entertaining, and also shows that Korea can also do quality pics in this genre.
Fans of well-produced gloomy thrillers should definitely check this one out!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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