ARANG (2006)

Country: South-Korea

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 98'

Director: Ahn Sang Hoon

Cast: Dong-Wook Lee, Jong-su Lee,Yun-ah Song


Story: So-Young and her rookie assistant are investigating a series of bizarre (bloodless!) murders. All the victims seem to have died due to an acid released in their bodies. But wait a minute: what about the ghost-girl we see during each uninspired death scene? As they discover more about the case, they come to realize that the victims are somehow related to a young girl's death ten years ago. It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to decide that it must be her ghost avenging upon the miscreants. Or, perhaps this whole ghost-thing is just a sham, and a human agent is behind it all? Will 90 minutes be enough to unravel this complicated mystery???

Review: Here we go again: yet another 'long-haired-ghost's revenge flick'! All the tropes that we've come to know and hate are back here, with no shame, no regret, and – worst of all – no attempt to upgrade them, to do something original with the trite motifs and devices.

-Urban legend that schoolgirls tell to one another? Check!

-Close-ups of bloodied ghost-eyes? Check!

-Sudden movements in front of the camera (accompanied by a loud noise)? Check!

-Black hair appearing in the most inconvenient places, growing insanely? Check!

-Black water oozing and announcing the ghost? Check!

-Pale fingers (with bloodied nails) slowly crawling towards the camera (and victim)? Check!

-Blue-faced kiddy-ghost? Check!

-Evil deeds from the past which haunt the perpetrators now? Check!

-Said evil deeds revealed by a convenient (fuzzy) tape? Check!

-Photo and film camera reveal the ghost, otherwise unseen? Check!

-Haunted web-site? Check!

-Ghost in the elevator (hovering, but not doing anything!)? Check!

-Autopsy revealing strange things about the victims? Check!

-Going to a small village community at the sea-side to discover the ghost's past? Check!

-Discovery of the dead woman's corpse in the culmination? Check!

-Surprising twist at the end? Check! Check! Check!

Rather than a real movie, ARANG is an anthology of clichés. Its sole claim at 'originality' is the fact that it's structured like a police procedural, with a policewoman investigator as the protagonist, rather than some journalist, accidental witness or the like. Even the crime-thriller aspect of the plot is not played honestly, as the key clue comes literally out of nowhere. During a ride in the car, So-Young's assistant mumbles: 'There must be a secret hidden in it.' That jumpstarts her light-bulb: 'A secret? Hidden? Of course, let's go and dig the dead dog buried in the first victim's backyard!' They go there, dig the corpse, she slices its stomach and – would you believe it? – out comes a roll of tape! The director never bothers to explain whether the dog swallowed it or if it was inserted into its carcass (which looked pretty undamaged to me). We're also supposed to take for granted that a loop of tape which spent some time in the decomposing fluids of a dead dog will be preserved enough to be watchable! Mind you, this is not some minor clue, but the key discovery in the investigation, as the tape reveals what, exactly, happened to the poor girl (now, apparently, a ghost) and who, exactly, did it to her.

The final twist is very underwhelming as it undermines THE HORROR aspect and stresses THE THRILLER-DRAMA. It's especially silly in a movie marketed as a horror, with ghosts, spirits etc. In the end it boils down to a crime-thriller laced with (as it turns out) rather haphazard and pointless apparitions. It might be excusable if at least the crime elements were treated honestly and originally, which they weren't. The investigation goes strictly by the numbers (with the aforementioned cheat of a discovery in the dead dog's stomach!), and its dominantly prosaic atmosphere ruins the spooky feel ARANG could otherwise have.

Neither fish nor fowl, it remains a strictly middle of the road affair. The tech credits are solid, but uninspired. Well-made movies are coming from Korea on the assembly line but this one has no substance beneath its professional gloss. As a mystery it's predictable and obvious; as a horror it's stale, déjà vu, and therefore ineffective. We want something fresh, not same-old same-old!

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