To us round eye Asia has taken on a schema of quirkiness. Like a dear friend, merely invoking its name has become a justification of manners. Example: “He threw up in your parent’s bed? That’s so Cody!” “THE GIRLS REBEL FORCE OF COMPETITIVE SWIMMERS ended with a girl shooting a laser beam out of her vagina? That’s so Asia!”
Watching DEATH BELL I realized that while a point of origin may be a justification, it is no excuse. I wanted to like this movie. I wanted to like it bad. A more up my alley premise will be hard to describe:
A private school empties out for the holiday save a small band of “elite” students who are forced to power study in order to impress a rival school they’ll be playing host to post-break. First day of cramming and the school’s televised PA system begins transmitting footage of a girl trapped in a box. A voice (that sounds eerily like a Korean Princess Leia when she wore that mask to rescue Han) comes over the loud speaker informing the teachers and student body that they have X many minutes to solve the equation written on the box in order to save the girl’s life. The box begins filling with water. All are too panicked to concentrate. Girl drowns. A new trap is set with a different student.
Trapped in an isolated, abandoned location? Check. Unknown murderer? Check. Problems to solve in order to save a life? Check. It’s like an Asian MINDHUNTERS with high schoolers. And if you think for a second that MINDHUNTERS is not the motherfucking bomb, well, then you’ve never seen Renny Harlin’s masterwork. Yeah, I just said Renny Harlin has a masterwork. I make no apologies for that or his genius movie. Not a single one. MINDHUNTERS is cough syrup on the brain. It’s kind of the best movie ever made. Do something.
Back to DEATH BELL, I suppose. The opening scene is of a girl running from ghosts and zombies in a graveyard/desert filled with school desks. The shot immediately proceeding this sequence is not of the girl jolting upright from her pre-exam nightmare. Oh, she wakes up alright, but it’s not the standard 90 degree instant sit-up. No. The immediate shot is a close up of her panties as they fill in red with menstruation.
It’s not a grotesque shot, mind you. It’s not even a moment of the type of exploitation dreg I’ve got such a raw nerve for. Nope, it’s just that introductory not in Kansas quirk that some how makes perfect sense in the Pacific rim. Like vending machines for used panties. Go fig.
It’s not until around 45 or so minutes in that it dawns being Asian isn’t an excuse. This movie is just as generic a missed opportunity as it would have been in the States. See, DEATH BELL starts out as SAW jiving puzzler, but it doesn’t end there. DEATH BELL is SAW set in South Korea except Jigsaw is a ghost…a ghost that can be choked. Shit, maybe it is SAW VI after all. But wait, no, now its a slasher movie, forget the ghost. Nope, now it’s MASTERMINDS. Nope, now BATTLE ROYALE. Er, hold up, it was SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE the whole time? D’oh.
THE TRUCK’s underwhelming delivery was saved by its track jumping plot, whereas DEATH BELL jumps logic tragics no holds barred, switching genres midstream until the whole thing is a joke.
Don’t get me wrong, like most alright horror flicks it has its moments. The pacing is brisk and there is always something happening. May not make a lick of sense, but it’s there. At first I thought the DVD I bought had a poor English subtitle translation. The students start solving the problems yet the kids kept dying. I was starting to wonder if I understood the plot. Turns out I did, the script just didn’t care.
One death in particular had me yearning for the keyboard right away. A student is wedged in what seems to be a mattress wire frame. Above him are burning candles. I thought maybe the candles were holding up spikes and that their diminishing height would bring his impalement. Nope, just wax. Wax that covered his mouth, suffocating him. It was a remarkable stroke of lameness. In his infinite wisdom, however, the undeterred director (simply named Chang) decided to drop his body on the students. Literally. They were all packed in the school’s high ceiling gymnasium when all of a sudden the wax covered body rockets like Spider-man at the guys and gals from no discernible point of attachment. It may have been the best part of the movie.
So basically if you have ADD, DEATH BELL is the greatest movie ever made. If you don’t, well, there is always MINDHUNTERS. Sweet, sweet Christian Slater ice shattering, Val Kilmer hook hanging, Head-like-a-Shark’s-Fin LL Cool J water dodging, Johhny Lee Miller secret weakness for bullets, cough syrup.
PS, I hope people don’t get tired of these Asian musings because I’m making my way back to the DVD “store” one last time before I leave. Expect more of these.