Story: With all her heart Mi-ja (Seo Young-hee) cares for her former elemental school teacher Ms. Park
(Oh Mi-hee), who is now bound to a wheelchair and living in a secluded house in the countryside. Before she dies
Mi-ja wants to invite her old school mates she hasn't seen for 16 years, in order to do something good for their
mutual teacher. However, when the visitors arrive it becomes apparent that every one of them has a good reason to
hold a deep grudge against their teacher. At first everyone hides their feelings and they show her the appropriate
respect, but soon the false mask they put on falls to pieces.
Ms. Park is responsible for several traumatic experiences of her students, or she even indirectly phyisically handycapped them for the rest of their life. There is Dar-bong (Park Hyo-jun), who is limping and had to leave behind his dream of becoming a professional Baseball player, Sun-hee (Lee Ji-hyun), who is now constantly having cosmetic surgery and is suffering from anorexia, because as she was a bit chubby as a child and has always been bullied by her teacher. Every one of the six visitors has been marked for life by Mrs. Park, the one way or the other, and therefore couldn't achieve anything in life. Mrs. Park, however, remembers things differently of her time as a teacher. Disapproval and hatred soon starts to spread among the visitors.
But suddenly one after another the former class mates get brutally slaughtered. Has this something to do with the disfigured child of Mrs. Park, whom she always locked up in the basement?
Review: "To Sir with Love" obviously marks the return to the teeny-slasher genre, mixes in a bit of "Hostel",
as there are a few brutal torturing scenes, and at the same time tries to depict the Koreans hatred for their
time in school and their teachers. At the beginning the film succeeds pretty well in this and we are actually happy
to finally see something different from the umpteenth "ghost-of-a-girl-with-long-black-hair" story. Here, evil
strikes in form of a living human, a killer disguised with a rabbit mask. Still, that's not really that inventive
either, as "Friday the 13th" and its several clones, was already back in the 80s. What's interesting is
the psychological aspect of the film, which shines through every now and then. Mrs. Park's pupils are broken
individuals and they are all tortured by their own share of traumata they still couldn't get over.
The story begins with a fast wrap-up of the birth of Mrs. Park's disfigured son, shows his father hanging himself upon seeing his son etc. Then we jump into the future, and together with the investigating detective discover a room in a basement in which a cruel and bloody massacre must have taken place. The main part of the movie is then told from the view of the only survivor, Mi-ja. Only at the end the events are again depicted in the present. The several time jumps, of which there also many throughout the narrative level of the past, are always comprehensible and add to a well done way of narrating the events.
First-time director Im Dae-woong doesn't deliver a masterpiece in terms of cinematogrpahy, but the setting, a simple and solitary house, is pretty nice. The only thing that soon gets annoying is the wrigglying camera work with its several zoom-ins and zoom-outs.
Some special words of praise have to go out to the actors. They do their stuff surprisingly well and manage to bestow more character traits and peculiarities on their roles in the short time their screen presence or the script grants them, than what we expected. Lee Dong-gyu, who is Mrs. Park's favorite student and who suffered from his teacher's sexual approaches, as well as Yeo Hyun-soo and Yoo Seor-ah, who play a couple and both had to endure the bullying of their teacher because of their poor families, remain somewhat shallow characters, however. Oh Mi-hee's performance as Mrs. Park, on the other hand, is really impressive. She succeeds in playing the pitiable, warm old lady, while at the same time also depicting a stiff, tyrannic and almost sadistic authority of a teacher. Sometimes we really feel pity for her, but at other times we can also understand why her former students would like nothing more than to see her dead.
"To Sir with Love" made a good choice in placing the focus more on the screwed-up mind of the students than on the rather mediocre slasher-insertions. There are some pretty brutal scenes, then again we don't get to see much graphic violence along with every little detail shown. Sadly, with its tight running time of merely 93 minutes the movie doesn't leave enough space for the script to draw the individual characters sharp enough. That's a shame, because here lied the movie's true potential, which it just couldn't really make use of. Nonetheless, the story, or rather the question about Mrs. Park's child can keep you interested in the film for a while, even though as already said, you sometimes feel reminded of those old 80s slasher flicks, when the genre had reached its popularity peak. Yet, the movie's strength lies in the fact that it's always interesting to learn more about the psyche of the protagonists and that we can actually feel pity for all of the characters one way or the other. But every time the killer with the rabbit mask enters the scene some viewers might just have to groan in boredom.
Luckily, the movie doesn't miss to serve a well done twist at the end, which actually is fitting well into the plot and lets you see the film from a completely new perspective. Without going too much into details: Some of the things shown, are merely projection or wishes.
Strangely enough, it's the same twist that deprives the film of something important. The hatred towards Korea's school system and the teachers, which occassionally stood in the movie's center, suddenly loses much of its impact and even worse, some of the narrative strands just head nowhere. What happened to Mrs. Park's disfigured child? We just don't get enough information, and in the end it's also impossible to put the story's pieces together in a satisfying way, as there are too many loose ends and story pieces missing, while others just don't fit into the overall picture. Thus, we have to ask ourselves if a twist just for the twist's sake is really an appropriate one, or if it actually wouldn't have been better to do without it. The movie wouldn't have been as entertaining and thrilling towards the end without a twist, but then again it would have had more meaning to it.
Nevertheless, "To Sir with Love" is a neat horror film, that is especially recommendable to those, who just got sick of your typical Asian horror flick. You won't get scared anywhere throughout the movie, but to make up for it there is a good amount of blood and violence. The characters are interesting and the actors are giving good performances. It's just sad, that the director couldn't make use of the potential the movie had...