I once suckled on the cinematic teet of Asia. Dramas, romantic comedies, action, horror – I was all over it. Three years later, I’m all but over it. I wish I knew whether it was me or the movies that changed, but they just don’t wow me like they used to, which is a shame. I do have a not unfamiliar hypothesis, however: When you first break into a new region of taste you seek out everything recommended, which has typically stood the test of time and risen above. Once you’ve gobbled it up all that remains is foraging in unproven grounds. Turns out it doesn’t matter if you forage in the American Straight-to-DVD pile or if you scavenge the land of imports, there is always less to love and more to just plain not care about.
Thus enters Pil-Sung Yim, director of ANTARTIC JOURNAL, and his film HANSEL & GRETEL, a net-decent film defined by its meticulously refined photography and undermined by conversely unrefined storytelling. As you must have guessed, this lush import from the Good Korea is not the childrens’ life lesson we all know. Yes, children are at the heart of it, as is a house in the woods and wanderers who come upon it, but this being the genre we all know more intimately than the titular kid’s tale, there is a twist! Which of course we’ll also all pick up on in the first 10 minutes, because we’re not fucking stupid, thank you very much.
The kids are the evil ones! Surprise! Well, not so much. That isn’t much of a spoiler, either, as it is established almost out of the gate. Unfortunately, Pil-Sung Yim either thinks we are fucking stupid or he was obliging an undisclosed running time clause, because the movie takes arduous time acknowledging this and every other twist the audience agrees on well before the movie does. I have many, but that may be one of my higher horror movie pet peeves. Don’t handicap my experience because someone else may be too thick to crack your substitution code.
I am often a forgiving viewer, though, and was beginning to grant such mercy to HANSEL & GRETEL. The most recent I recall an acid trip color scheme looking this unsettling was in 1971 when a wizard named Willy Wonka kidnapped school children and took them on a boat ride down the River Styx. Further adding to the unfortunates, unfortunately, is that this look is all the film has going for it. There are a few neat sequences, but they’re spaced farther apart than Sarah Palin’s desperate interview pauses not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is. Adding insult to injury, sporting all the cutting edge editorial instincts of fossilization, HANSEL & GRETEL is paced like a tar pit.
The story revolves around Eun-Soo, a young man who wakes from a car crash to find a young girl with a lamp willing to lead him to her house in the woods. The house is odd. The parents are odd. The three kids are odder. On day two, mom and dad split unseen, leaving the needy children under the ward of Eun-Soo, who wants nothing to do with the weirdos. Of course, he quickly learns any attempt to flee finds him right back at the House of Happy Children, someone or something is moving around in the attic, and these kids are super awkward.
HANSEL & GRETEL is three minutes shy of two hours and could stand to lose thirty minutes without compromising the end game. The problem with pacing this poor other than the obvious lust for the movie to go away is the near impossibility to maintain any level of intimidation. Strong whiffs of Stephen King-esque influences in the realm of evil children float away in this vast lack of restraint. An infinite attic is never explored, just shown. A tree with a woman inside it is shown, never explored. And yet sadly, a side plot of some some crazy woman and her God Warrior husband hangs around like the sticker you can’t peel off a DVD case.
Pil-Sung Yim’s films may be one of the few contemporary films I find begging for a remake. Milking scary children is not a hard task. Milking isolation deep in a never ending forest is not a hard task. A door in which the children reveal their true age is ripe for iconic imagery. Yet HANSEL & GRETEL never makes it work. Even with how immaculate the cinematography is, there are few shots contained within I’d begin to even consider iconic. The ending, which is neither a let down nor a let up, should be darker than the coals destined to burn adults alive.
Actually, now that I think about it, is Hansel and Gretel an old enough story to be in the public domain? If so, I should go jot down some script notes. If not, I guess I’ll just resign myself to having seen this neat-but-inadequate bending of the classic yarn. I wish I could recommend it. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a good bit of K-Horror, but HANSEL & GRETEL just doesn’t warrant the track down.
Pretty posters, though: