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The Piper - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Son-nim

South Korea 2015

Genre:
Thriller, Fantasy, Horror

Director:
Kim Kwang-tae

Cast:
Ryoo Seung-ryong
Lee Sung-min
Cheon Woo-hee
Goo Seung-hyeon
Lee Joon
Jeong Kyung-ho
Hong Seong-deok
Kim Yoon-hye
Kwak In-joon


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The Piper

The Piper - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Woo-ryong (Ryoo Seung-ryong) has lost his wife during the Korean War and needs to take care of his son Yeong-nam (Goo Seung-hyeon), who suffers from tuberculosis. He is on his way to Seoul, because an American told him that his son could be cured there. On his way he comes through a remote village. The village mayor (Lee Sung-min) isn't very pleased that Woo-ryong wants to stay for a night in order to recover from the trip. The rest of the villagers also seems to be hiding something. Woo-ryong suspects that the village is simply unable to deal with a rat infestation. He offers his help and being desperate the village mayor accepts and promises enough money for Woo-ryong to cure his son in Seoul. With the help of his piper's melody and his own mixture of rat poison Woo-ryong in fact manages to get the problem under control. Furthermore, he tries to win over young Mi-sook (Cheon Woo-hee), the village's new shaman. However, the village keeps a secret that is about to become a great danger to the piper and his son...


The Piper - Film Screenshot 2 The Piper - Film Screenshot 3
The Piper - Film Screenshot 4

Review: The German legend of the "Pied Piper of Hamelin" is known almost around the whole world and has been translated into more than 30 languages. A story so dark revolving around a man who has been denied his payment and thus kidnaps the children of a town of course makes for great source material for a dark horror thriller. "The Piper" plays out its strength of a wonderfully eerie atmosphere and nice acting achievements in an impressive manner and accordingly stands as one of the best Korean horror flicks of recent years. If you expect killer rats with B-movie charm to them you will get disappointed, though. In "The Piper" humans are in the center of events and what they are capable of doing is more gruesome than anything a hungry army of mutated rats can do. And that's just why the flick works so well, too. Shifting the story to the Korean War is also a smart choice.

The Piper - Film Screenshot 5

The arrival of father and son in the village already gives us the impression that something isn't right. The villagers react in an odd way and despite the wonderful green nature and sunshine flooding the village a shadow of mystery hovers above everything and a looming catastrophe seems near. With its story of a creepy village the film doesn't win any points for originality. Instead, it's the atmosphere that instantly manages to capture you. The warm light of a fireplace may create a feeling of cozyness every now and then, but the superbly dark mood reminds us of dark romanticism or a slightly gothic-like story. The tight atmosphere is carried by the very well achieved pictures. Director Kim Kwang-tae manages to accomplish remarkable stuff with his debut work. Only when it comes to editing some ideas seem rather odd.

The Piper - Film Screenshot 6

Also doing their part for making the movie a success are the actors. Ryoo Seung-ryong ("Masquerade", "Miracle in Cell No. 7") plays a crippled father who somehow manages to get by through life and wants to cure his son from tuberculosis. Playing a vulnerable father this time fits him well and his scenes with Lee Sung-min ("Broken"), who portrays the village mayor, constantly build up tension. Uncovering the source of the remote village's mystery is rewarding, even though you shouldn't expect any extraordinary surprises. A good mix of supernatural occurences and possible rational explanations for them generally make this film a well-rounded affair. In the end, you can look at all incidents from two different angles, as is already the case with the movie's original title which can either be translated as "visitor" or in the broader sense "ghost".

The Piper - Film Screenshot 7

Korean tradtion and shamanism are also embedded in "The Piper" in a way that pushes the chill factor. Cheon Woo-hee ("Han Gong-ju") may be putting a lot of effort into her role as the involuntary shaman, but the screenplay neglects her too much. However, where the story shows its muscles is when it comes to the allegories which are everywhere to be found and refer to the Korean War, but also want to be understood as criticism on modern Korean society. After all, it's the crookedness of people that maneuvers the story into a dark abyss. "Crimes commited for survival will be forgiven", the village mayor says, but is that really so? Or aren't the children - like in the original story -, our future so to speak, the ones who have to suffer because of those crimes by blindly following the Pied Piper into a cave?

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It's not just the eerily dark village, which almost has something otherworldly about it, but also the fact that the father is desperately looking for an address on a piece of paper which a "Yankee" gave him - although the only words written on it are "Kiss my ass, monkey" - that make this film a pleasantly depressing experience. After all, the son's cure seems to be a vain endeavor, but when it comes to the finale things really start to get dark. The special effects that create the rats really don't need to hide from bigger productions (except of a few small scenes), but some of the inevitable deaths are still looking a bit cheesy as if taken out of a B-movie. Yet, it's easy to overlook this since "The Piper" looks like a mix of "Bedevilled" and "Hansel and Gretel". Its tight atmosphere and depressing, eerie beauty make "The Piper" one of the most original Korean works of the last few years.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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