Country: South Korea
Running Time: 115'
Director: Won Shin-yun
Cast: Lee Byuong-jun, Cha Ye-ryun, Han Seok-gyu
GHOUL RATING: 2 (**)
Story: A seemingly minor incident snowballs into an uncontrollable situation. An aspiring opera singer (Cha Ye-ryun) travels the countryside with her mentor (Lee Byuong-jun). After he attempts to rape her, she flees straight into the hands of the leader of a group of thugs who want to play some cruel games with their visitors from the big city. With the car stuck in the sand and no help in sight, the two will have to find a way to escape the clutches of these criminals before someone gets seriously hurt…
Review: A number of excellent films are invoked in reviews attempting to describe BLOODY ARIA. Some of the titles which are invoked include classics like STRAW DOGS, DELIVERANCE, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, or more recent genre fare like WOLF CREEK or ORDEAL (CALVAIRE). A word of advice: don't be fooled by these comparisons. BLOODY ARIA does not manage to approach even the middling affair like ORDEAL and certainly offers very little to merit being mentioned in the same sentence with the rest. While it's not exactly an ordeal to watch, it does not bring anything new or especially worthwhile to the table, and ends up being only moderately entertaining for the lovers of sadistic cinema.
To be sure, the director Won Shin-yun, who debuted with the haunted hairpiece flick (THE WIG), provides predictably high-blown reasons for his violent second film: "I wanted the audience to feel the pain and wanted to wake their subconscious sense of submission. I wanted them to look back at themselves and those around them and see our society for what it is: full of irrationality." Someone should have told him that the irrationality of the society is not a good enough excuse for a screenplay that's too haphazard for its own good. His "fable of violence in the Korean society" (as he describes it) would have been more effective had he bothered to actually deliver a strong set of characters from different strata of society (like STRAW DOGS and DELIVERANCE have done), instead of peopling his movie with a dozen of caricatures. Even a clever set-up and pay-off along the lines of THE HILLS HAVE EYES would be something, but BLOODY ARIA is underwhelming in those departments too.
The beginning shows some promise, but the film very soon becomes stuck just like the car in the river bank's sand, and starts revving without going anywhere for too long. The film's main problem is that it cannot honestly decide what it wants to be: its set-up seems to lead towards an orgy of ultra-violence (and the blurbs and promotion support this), but it boils down to a boring picnic with brawling rednecks in which no one gets killed! There's a threat to a bullied youth in a sack, but he survives. There's a threat of rape, but nothing happens. There's a beautiful and imaginative sadistic threat in the form of four people buried up to their necks in sand and doused with gasoline – but… you guessed it: nothing happens! Oh, yeah: the film is unpredictable. It makes you expect something – and then it doesn't deliver! How clever!
Tables are turned, but unconvincingly. It's laughably unbelievable when a skinny-assed youth starts applying his karate chops to a gang of thugs. Twists are provided to reveal new identities and new relationships between the characters, but this is so forced that it ruins the documentary realistic feel that the director was striving for. The clash between the different social groups is presented in the most obvious and predictable manner: professor vs. student = abuse of power, attempted rape; snobbish urbanites vs. village idiots = mutual distrust and hatred; police vs. citizens = power creates submission, submission leads to violence.
And that brings me back to my main complaint: BLOODY ARIA is comicky when it should've been serious, and tries to be serious when it should've been excessive and exploitative. The attempts at drama are laughable; the action is silly and unsuspenseful; the baddies are not sadistic psychos but mere pathetic bullies; and the horror and brutality are mild, unimaginative and anti-climactic. Won Shin-yun says: "BLOODY ARIA is not just a dry social drama. The movie tells an unpredictable story with a black humor and suspense twist that scares you while you laugh and that makes you laugh as you get scared." Trying to have it both ways, both as a "social drama" and as a suspenseful action horror comedy whatnot, the movie fails on both accounts and ends somewhere in the dull, forgettable middle.
The technical aspects are OK and the film looks fine in its wintry desaturated colors. The cast boasts several well-known faces: actress Cha Ye-ryun was seen in two above-average horrors, THE VOICE (WHISPERING CORRIDORS IV) and MUOI: THE LEGEND OF THE PORTRAIT. Han Seok-gyu was in GREEN FISH and PRESIDENT'S LAST BANG among others, while Oh Dal-Su is recognizable from OLDBOY, LADY VENGEANCE and …CYBORG, CRYING FIST and A BITTERSWEET LIFE. Their acting is decent within the confines of this particular script. All in all, BLOODY ARIA is neither bloody nor operatic enough, but it's not too bad either, so you might want to give it a chance – once you forget the comparisons to far greater movies and settle your expectations to a decent-to-mediocre, but watchable flick.