Combining the stylings of a young Park Chan-wook with the emotional sensibilities of the Korean drama world, debut feature Beautiful Vampire stood out from the crop of local indie genre features making their debuts at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival this year (BiFan). Director Jude Jung imbues a playful style into a low-budget if thin genre comedy that features a compelling turn from rising name Jung Yeon-ju.
Ran (Jung) looks like an elegant, if slightly odd, young Korean woman who runs her own beauty shop in a Seoul neighborhood. What separates her from her would-be peers is that she's actually a 500-year-old vampire who has managed to stay off the radar with her steady supply of pig's blood and sunscreen. However, when her avaricious landlady decides to up the rent, just as she develops unwanted attraction for her airhead wannabe actor son, her carefully balanced life is quickly turned upside down.
Clever production design, colorful wardrobe and astute lensing get Beautiful Vampire off to a steady start, ably making up for its budgetary limitations. Director Jung crafts an engaging cinematic world with a slight fantastic bent, all built around a strong central performance. Where the film struggles however is with a simplistic narrative that doesn't seem worthy of the effort put into its' staging.
Jung's work features clear nods to the major stylists of Korean cinema, not unlike 2016's Karaoke Crazies, but unlike that indie gem, these are combined with a threadbare romcom setup that is light on both supporting characters and momentum. For a 500-year-old immortal being, Ran seems like a pretty helpless character, and it doesn't help that the object of her affection, played by Song Kang, is a floppy dolt who hardly seems worth the trouble.
Nevertheless, playing an old-word character spouting archaic grammar and donning an eclectic mix of bygone fashion styles, Jung is oddly charming in a role that is both effortlessly beguiling and at times cringingly awkward. Jung has appeared in a few prior indies, such as Baby Beside Me, and a handful of commercial titles in small roles, but Beautiful Vampire is the first proper showcase for her unique talents.
Despite its appealing cocktail of quirk and genre conventions, Beautiful Vampire never quite goes beyond its modest ambitions as a light combination of popular genre conventions and lowbrow dramedy. Even at a svelte 72 minutes, it doesn't take long for the undemanding story and simplistic side characters to fall into repetitive patterns. A little more narrative ambition would have been a welcome addition to Jung's creative vision. Maybe next time.