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REEL Talk: Korean horror films Updated: 2014-07-04 13:29:37 KST

REEL Talk: Korean horror films
Blockbusters and thrillers have been invading the marquees this summer, but there remains one film genre, a fixture of the season, that has yet to show its face, until now.

Korean cinema is known for its horror films and every summer, movie lovers look to beat the heat by getting their chills in the theater. K-horror, as it's better known, may non longer be in its heyday, but year after year, a fresh set of local horror films are unleashed on the public.
Yesterday saw the release of two new K-horrors and here to chat to us about those and the history of the genre as well as its current state within the industry is our very own film critic Pierce Conran.

So, let's jump right in, Pierce. It's just scorching hot in Korea these days and there is no better way to cool off that heat than movies that send shivers down your spine, right?
Well Korean horror films they are fairly well known both here at home and overseas.
Can you account for the genre's global popularity?
I remember back in the 90s and even in early 2000s when we talked about those really scary movies, they were usually Japanese flicks.

In a sense, Korean horror cinema, though it has been around for a long time, piggy backed off the success of Japanese horror cinema, or J-horror, at the tail end of the 1990s. Most are familiar with at least one of the versions of The Ring (also remade in Korea), and these
female or child ghost driven films became all the rage at the turn of the millennium. Korea is very well known for high school girl haunting films, such as the Whispering Corridors series, but perhaps what sets K-horror apart is production values. Ever since The Blair Witch Project, Hollywood has been producing cheap, digital horror films while Korea continues to craft well designed additions to the genre.

For horror fans, what would you say are some of the must watch Korean horrors?

Among my favorites are MEMENTO MORI, the 2nd in the Whispering Corridors series, which deals significantly with lesbianism, quite surprising for commercial Korean film in 1999. It's also directed by Kim Tae-yong, whose making waves this week after announcing his engagement to Chinese star Tang Wei. Another, and perhaps most famous, is Kim Jee-woon's A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, a sumptuously crafted work that has been widely
acclaimed around the world. Another, more recent favorite, was the shamanism horror POSSESSED.

How are K-horrors doing these days?

Honestly, since POSSESSED, which dates back to 2009, there haven't been many worth mentioning, and save for the odd modest success, such as last summer's KILLER TOON, they have been having a very hard time at the box office.

Do you have any theories as to why this might be happening?

Is suppose it's a combination of things. Much like Hollywood starting doing 15 years ago, Korean horrors are getting cheaper and cheaper, as we're seeing a number of found footage films and very low-budget, almost TV-style horrors. There's also very little big talent interested in participating in these films these days, likely because financing is an issue due to their poor returns. However, horror cinema is often a showcase for rising talent but in the current Korean film industry, incoming talent is ill-afforded the means or freedom to successfully realize their visions. Many of the recent batch of K-horror feel more unrealized, than half-baked.

With that in mind, what does this summer's batch look like, and how do you think they'll do?

So far as I can tell, we have three K-horrors this summer, two of those out this weekend. They seem even more low profile than usual, as studios may finally be backing away from the genre, and if we don't get a revelation this season it will bang the nails down more for the ailing genre.

So this weekend we have MOURNING GRAVE, from debut director Oh In-chun. A high school boy can see dead people and when he moves to a new school he tries to solve a haunting with the help of a ghost girl. The film combines horror, comedy and high school tropes, a clever move since the most successful horror of recent years have actually been Horror-Comedy hybrids such as HELLO GHOST and SPELLBOUND and the horror-thriller HIDE AND SEEK. It's not altogether successful, but it feels fresh and earnest and packs in quite a few good scares and laughs.

Also out this week is NAVIGATION, a found footage horror about obnoxious youths who happen a car crash and take the navigation system, which of course leads them to some bad places. I haven't seen it yet but there's no buzz surrounding this film and the premise (not to mention) do not inspire confidence.

Later this summer we'll have TUNNEL 3D, which will premiere at the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival in two weeks. Sadly, I don't foresee any of these films breaking out, but given their meager budgets, even modest returns would be great news.

You don't sound too optimistic about the current state of K-horror. What do you think is in store for the future?

Horror will always be popular, but I think we'll see more and more hybrids rather than straight horrors. I'd like to see more horror films emerging in the independent scene. Films that are fun, full of energy, and devoid of any financial strings. This is happening around the rest of the world and resulting in some innovative and surprisingly successful films.


Well, this segment alone was enough to send chills down my spine - mind you, I'm not a big fan of horror films in general, but for the millions of scary movie fans out there we would definitely like to see some well-made, quality horrors return to the cinemas soon.

Pierce, thanks for another excellent, but creepy round of REEL talk today and we'll of course see you back here next week.

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