When the humidity begins to turn all of your clothes into wet rags, you know summer has arrived in Korea, which also means that it's K-horror season in the nation's multiplexes. Though the country has a long history of horror going back to the films of Kim Ki-young (The Housemaid, 1960), Lee Man-hee (Black Hair, 1966) and Shin Sang-ok (A Thousand Year Old Fox, 1969), its modern incarnation began in 1998 with the first entry in the enduring Whispering Corridors series. Since then the industry has produced a large body of straight horror films that includes modern classics such as Memento Mori (1999), A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) and Possessed (2009), while many other works have also successfully implemented elements of horror, such as The Quiet Family (1998), Save the Green Planet (2003) and The Host (2006).
The horror genre seems particularly prone to sub-par, thrown-together fare and Korea is no exception to this. However, the general lack of quality on display over the last few years has led many to go so far as to pronounce K-horror as either a dead or dying breed. Following Possessed, the last well-received Korean horror film, each year has brought with it a trio of lifeless genre offerings that have all failed to strike a chord with viewers throughout the sweltering summer months. Looking at the misefires of the past few years, 2010 brought us Be With Me, Death Bell 2: Bloody Camp and The Haunted House Project; the next year arrived with Ghastly, The Cat, and White: The Melody of the Curse; while last year gave us Don't Click, Horror Stories and Two Moons.
This year we have no less than four horrors hitting theaters and what's more they will do so throughout June rather than the entire summer. It's going to be a crowded field and I'm not sure the pie's big enough to go around. Part of the reason might be that July and August are chock-a-block with blockbuster Korean fare. Films like Snowpiercer and Mr. Go 3D are the big budget genre films almost sure to draw in the crowds while other films such as the influenza pic The Flu also stand a much better chance of turning a healthy profit.
Keeping that in mind, let's take a look at the four films hoping frighten but not scare off viewers this month and see if there's a chance that one will buck the trend. Trailers available below:
A new, psychic employee of an insurance firm is brought by her boss to the company's archives. He needs her help to uncover the truth of three old cases. In Cliff, Dong-wook and Sung-kyun are stuck on a cliff, but with only candy bar between they must choose who gets to live. In Accident, a group of students go on a trip after a failed examination, but things don't go according to plan. Finally, in Escape, a trainee teacher, following a conversation with a student, finds himself stuck by the entrance of hell.
The first Horror Stories omnibus, which served as the opening film during last year's Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (PiFan) had its moments, namely the strong opening short by Jeong Beom-sik, but on the whole it wasn't a particularly memorable effort. This sequel promises more of the same which means that, as with all horror anthologies, it is likely to be a mixed bag.
Release Date: June 5
A plastic surgeon catches his beautiful wife rolling in the hay with a gym instructor and begins to take out his frustration and morbid fantasies on his clients. One woman comes to him seeking the perfect body but though she achieves that goal, she also gets more than she bargained for.
Kim Sung-hong's Doctor initially premiered during last October's Busan International Film Festival, where the film received a scathing review from Variety's Maggie Lee. Given that and how much I disliked Kim's previous horror outing Missing (2009), I'm hardly chomping at the bit to see this one. It's a shame because the premise does sound intirguing but judging from the trailer and what I've heard about the film, it sounds like Kim's latest features his previous works' misogyny.
Release Date: June 20
Hyun-jin comes to psychiatrist Ji-hoon suffering from hallucinations. He uses hypnosis to get to the bottom of her problems but during the process he falls for her. He breaks his ethics by compelling her through hypnosis to come and see him every week.
The debut film from Kwon Young-rak, formerly an assistant director on films such as A Bloody Aria (2006) and My Tutor Friend 2 (2007), doesn't seem to have very much going for it judging by the trailer. With gormless leads, a poorly defined mise-en-scene and the lack of a strong concept, A Puppet doesn't have the drawing factor it will need to stand out from this month's K-horror pack. But who knows, maybe there's more here than meets the eye.
Release Date: June 20
Murders begin to occur which seem based on a web comic artist's illustrations. Detective Lee investigates the killing spree.
Director Kim Yong-gyoon is a veteran of the Korean film industry, having already made The Sword With No Name (2009), Wanee and Junah (2001) and the well-regarded K-horror The Red Shoes (2005). Based off a popular web comic and starring Lee Si-young, hot off her performance in How to Use Guys With Secret Tips, Killer Toon may be the film to buck the ailing K-horror trend. It doesn't hurt that the film opens on my birthday. Surely a good omen! Or should that be a bad one?
Release Date: June 27