Wednesday, July 29

Hansel and Gretel (Korea, 2007)

Creepy can be gorgeously dense. The house that traps adults and the forest that stands guard are thick with swamp-green shadows and murmuring. Hansel and Gretel (헨젤과 그레텔) is a visual feast of horrors and sweets; details, details, details make your eyes dart from one corner of the room to the other. Toys, gems, cupcakes, storybooks, that robot-printed couch that I would like to have, silhouettes on walls, and bunnies, lots and lots of bunnies. (And what's with all the carrots, what do they need such good eyesight for anyway? It must be bunnies!---Thank you Joss Whedon, and Anya, for now making me forever suspicious of rabbits.) The candied claustrophobia swells halfway into the movie when director Lim Pil-Seong shows us grandly the chasm that separates fantasy and reality.

Creepy can be cute. Very cute. Jin Ji-Hee is a precocious child actress who can go from nice to scary to weepy in a snap, but it is her voice that sends the tingle down my spine. Low and grainy, it is an otherworldly, underworldly sound. Hansel and Gretel plays at opposites with utter delight. The malicious eyes above the gap-toothed grin, the children toying with the adults, it reverses the roles in the grim fairytale. Three children who never age lure adults into their house and "audition" them to be their parents. Eun-soo (Cheon Jeong-myeong) crashes his car while arguing with his pregnant girlfriend over the phone. When he regains consciousness, he sees a girl in a red riding hood who leads him to her house where he can rest for the night. Eun-soo meets the other two children and the parents who seem shaken up. The following morning, Eun-soo sets for home but discovers that he couldn't get out of the forest's veiny grasp. The parents disappear. A new couple arrives.

Creepy can be unnerving. The film takes a chilling turn with the arrival of a religious fanatic who is too touchy with girls. The bad kind of touchy. The roles are once again reversed; morals shatter whatever was fantastical and macabre. Lim Pil-Seong inserts the back story of the children as the movie reaches its climax. The exposition runs a little longer than it should, taking some much needed tension away from the final act. The flashback was also quite difficult to watch---I had to look away a couple of times because, even if I quite like watching torture porn, I couldn't stomach watching a man beat a child lifeless.

Hansel and Gretel starts strong and keeps you enthralled until the resolution awkwardly rolls out, which I found a little too...X-men meets Fables. Yes, the mutants and the Vertigo comic, with the telekinesis and the power of the written word. Still, it's a movie that's easy to get lost in. Beguiling, rich like icing, and cruel like the real world.

Rating: 3.5

Hansel and Gretel (Hen-jel-gwa Geu-re-tel)
Directed by Lim Pil-Seong (Antarctic Journal)
Starring Cheon Jeong-myeong (The Aggressives), Eun Won-jae (Natural City), Sim Eun-kyung (Living Death), Jin Ji-hee (Cello), Park Hee-son (Love Talk)

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