Pre-credits, we see lead character Mi-Ju (Hyeon-a Seong, THE SCARLET LETTER) playing a solemn tune on her cello in her bedroom. The sad tranquillity is broken several times by fleeting loud cuts to Mi-Ju laid on a hospital stretcher, bloodied, doctors frantically trying to revive her.

Mi-Ju works part-time at a local college as a music instructor. Her friend and colleague Sun-Ae offers her a full-time position, but Mi-Ju seems reluctant to commit - hinting that she may be going away soon.

As Mi-Ju prepares to leave the college that evening, a disgruntled former student confronts her, accusing her of ruining her life by giving her poor grades in the previous year. The student ends the conversation by vowing to get her revenge on Mi-Ju.

Visibly shaken by the altercation, Mi-Ju drives home - and suffers the first in a series of harrowing hallucinations along the way.

At home, we learn that it is Mi-Ju's birthday - and her husband Jun-Ki (Ho-bin Jeong, SHADOWLESS SWORD), two daughters and sister-in-law are all gathered to celebrate with her.

Here the film comes into it's own, as it settles into an engaging account of a family getting on with things, while slowly, subtly, their world starts to fall apart. It begins simply enough with the eldest daughter, the backward Yoon-Jin, having her first period. When Mi-Ju takes the worried youngster to the doctor, the female medic asks if Mi-Ju is still taking the pills that had been prescribed to her. Our first indication that the hallucinations waking Mi-Ju in the night are attached to some trauma from her past.

The fact that Mi-Ju's character is a sympathetic one, that of a doting mother and wife, gives the story weight during the first two acts. The humour and warmth shared between her and Jun-Ki is impressive too, eschewing the clinical coldness found in so many Asian genre flicks.

But as events get weirder (the appointing of a sinister mute housekeeper; the family pet dying; a tragedy that provokes Mi-Ju to insist her family is cursed) and the film moves into darker territories, first-time helmer Woo-cheol Lee loses his grip on the storytelling and human interest is abandoned to make way for nightmarish cliches.

It's a shame, because the film is beautifully photographed, well acted and includes a couple of decent twists (the first handled poorly, the second one more successful). Events are sometimes cruel too, in a refreshing way. It's just a shame this had to have any supernatural connotations at all, because the family-in-collapse storyline of the first hour was so much more involving.

The 1.77:1 aspect transfer has been anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TVs and looks fantastic. Minimal grain, clear bright images and a sharpness that almost hurts are a pleasure on the eyes.

The Korean audio tracks, in choices of 2.0, a thumping 5.1 and 5.1 DTS, are equally impressive. Excellent stuff, yet again, from those fine folk at Tartan UK.

The disc also boasts attractive animated menus, and a scene selection page that allows access to the movie via 16 chapters.

Although the advertised commentary from director Woo-cheol Lee hasn't materialised, we do get the following in the way of extras:

A Making Of featurette. This excellent 36-minute documentary gives us plenty of interesting on-set "behind the scenes" footage, reveals the shoot to be a jovial one, and spares time for the usual cast interviews where people whine on about their character's motivations.

The original theatrical trailer is relatively brief at 90 seconds, but does a fine job of evoking the film's sad/haunting atmosphere. The trailer's onscreen blurb compares the film to THE SIXTH SENSE and A TALE OF TWO SISTERS. Comparisons are tenuous, to say the least.

Both extras come with forced English subtitles.

Not a bad debut offering from Lee, then. Likeable characters and a strong underpinning to the family affairs at the heart of the movie, but it all comes a little unstuck when things turn supernatural.

Worth a look.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Tartan Asia Extreme
Region All - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review