While many critics are quick to point out the somewhat repetitive pattern that Asian horror cinema has indulged in over the last few years, there is still more darkness in the human mind and spirit to yet be explored by these innovative filmmakers. While as a genre Asian horror has admittedly been largely regulated to the ghost story, patterned primarily after the successful structure of such hits as Ringu, and the excessive violent formula represented by Evil Dead Trap and its like, there are various new approaches that can yield original, highly stylized thrills and chills, as the Korean thriller Cinderella shows. The newest offering from Tartan Asian Extreme, champs of Asian terror, this is no fairy tale. A violent and thematically subversive nightmare, director Bong Man-Dae proves that the genre is far from dead, capable of evoking sheer panic and character-orientated tragedy. A majority of the drama is inherent in the flaws and desires of characters disturbingly believable. This is humanistic horror -- a drama of lust, the danger of appearances, and internal struggle. A horror movie for a thinking audience sensitive to the commercialistic tyranny of the present day, Cinderella pleases on all fronts.

At once both a noir-like mystery/thriller and traditional horror story, the plot of Cinderella merges inexplicable death and questions of evil with serious social questions of our culture's worship of exterior beauty. Revolving around the Asian desire for the quality of ul-jjang (the Perfect Face) -- a devotion to bodily perfection mirroring our own Western worship of youth and plastic perfection -- 17-year-old Hyunsu's friends are envious of here because of her status, most particularly that her mother is a plastic surgeon. During a summer vacation that was to be a time of friendship and delight, a startling darkness descends on their lives. Each of Hyunsu's friends gets plastic surgery (for perfection, donch'ya know) and each dies mysteriously in turn. When she suspects that her own mother hold the secret knowledge to sinister secrets that connect with her friend's deaths (as well as her own fate), she reluctantly seeks out a revelation that will have terrible consequences.

Devoted to a pleasing marriage of sensualist and stark horror, the look of this film mirrors its complex themes with hot and cold colors paralleling emotions of rage and love, panic and frustration. A banquet of psychological extremes, the story gives itself time and space to develop, making sure that you get to know the characters. This encourages suspense and shared empathy. In short, Cinderella treats both its story and characters more seriously than is often the case, as concerned with logical narrative development as it is in establishing just the right mood and atmosphere. The nightmarish becomes believable, and true horror is revealed not in the sole province of the supernatural but within the very parameters of everyday living -- unearthed in a world of lost disillusioned people walking, sleeping, eating, and thinking according to commercialized logic. Terror is found in the everyday lives of common people -- lives of banality and longing, as people are taught to despise themselves by a materialist standard. Indeed, the big business/media insistence that we all change is as disturbing as the more sensational aspects of the film, and the filmmakers get extra marks for making not only sleek entertainment but serious commentary in the process. If the plot element of the standard long-haired female revenant isn't unique, its approach is, and the scenes where girls are stalked after getting plastic surgery wonderfully unnerving.

Visually Bong Man-Dae's second feature in no way betrays his previous association with porn, sporting technologically superior images and production values that are emphasized in Tartan's anamorphic widescreen print, which itself is clean if occasionally too dark, without grain or speckling. Audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 in the original Korean with English subs is clean and efficient. Extras are solid if not as appealing as other Tartan releases, consisting only of Trailers and the obligatory "Making Of" piece.

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by Tartan USA
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review