So-yeon (Park Min-young) is an agreeable young lady, the type who's always smiling - even when in conversation with her psychiatrist, who she visits regularly in a bid to overcome the claustrophobia she's suffered from since childhood.

She now works in a local pet shop where she reluctantly grooms the animals for their fussy owners. We first meet her applying a make-over to fluffy Persian cat Silky. Silky's owner Mrs Lee returns from a shopping spree a short while later and is thrilled with So-yeon's over-the-top efforts. The shop's keeper fawns over his customer, scowling discreetly at So-yeon when she politely suggests that applying make-up to a feline's face is not healthy...

As Silky and her owner leave the premises, So-yeon watches from the shop door - and is alarmed to see a little girl stroking the cat in the street. This child (Kim Ye-ron), who appeared from nowhere, vanishes just as quickly as she arrived.

Later that day, Mrs Lee's husband finds her dead in the elevator of their apartment. Beside her, Silky sits innocently purring away...

By chance, So-yeon passes by Mrs Lee's apartment some time later and bumps into policeman Jun-Seok, who's busy carrying Silky away from the death scene. He's her pal Bo-hee's ex-boyfriend - but it's clear from the offset that both have strong feelings for one another - and within minutes Jun-seok has persuaded So-yeon to take temporary ownership of Silky for him while things get sorted out.

That's when things start going awry for So-yeon. No sooner has she placed Silky in a cage at the pet shop, than she starts seeing fleeting visions of a demonic child with red, cat-like eyes. Even worse, when her mate Bo-hee (Da-eun Sin) decides to follow suit and adopt a cat from a local animal shelter, the consequences are tragic.

Sure enough, So-yeon eventually gravitates towards Jun-seok as they pair together in an effort to discover why the local cats seem to have a murderous effect on their owners of late. And, what has the ominous ghostly girl who keeps appearing to So-yeon got to do with all of this...?

It's not that a film like THE CAT is bad. On the contrary, it's very efficiently made: the lighting and production design make ample use of its reported $3 million budget and director Seung-wook Byeon know how to shoot set-pieces with an eye for eliciting suspense.

The light opening scenes are playfully misleading, and the characters are quirky enough to be engaging throughout.

But, as is frequently the case these days, it's another Korean horror film that ends up playing by the conventions laid out by the Japanese breakthrough film RINGU some 15 years earlier. Seriously, how many more of these films are going to be reliant upon a vengeful, dead-eyed girl's ghost lurching at the screen in sudden jump-scare flashes?

To its credit, THE CAT is slick and energetic enough to emerge as one of the more entertaining Korean genre pictures (K-Horror?) of late. It still leaves its viewer feeling somewhat underfed, but at least there are tasty little treats to be enjoyed along the way. The minimalist effects, for example, are good. And the lead protagonist is, crucially, likeable. Without wishing to spoil matters, a note of positivity come the film's wrap-up also offered a refreshing alternative to the 70s-style doom-and-gloom we've now come to expect. Well-gauged moments of wry humour and social commentary are ably placed throughout director Seung-wook Byeon's evenly toned script.

But the cannily staged exposition, fine characterisations and potentially intriguing theme of animals extolling their revenge for years of mistreatment gives way to a second half riddled with one cliché after another.

THE CAT was provided for review by Matchbox Films on a rudimentary DVD-R, making it impossible to accurately assess how the retail disc is going to perform. Here, at least, the film looked pretty good in a 16x9 presentation which offered strong colours, deep blacks and a fair degree of sharpness while managing to stay relatively clear of unwelcome noise.

The Korean 2.0 audio was clean throughout, while burned-in English subtitles were well-written and easy to read at all times.

There were no extra features or even menus on the preview disc provided.

I enjoyed THE CAT: it's stylish and fun, as well as being quite eerie when required. Park is an amiable lead too. But the big stumbling block here is that it unwinds into a succession of set-pieces that we've all seen before in the likes of RINGU and THE GRUDGE.

It's about time the Asian horror market had a rethink about how they elicit scares, because their tried and tested formula has become stale. Still, THE CAT's not bad for what it is.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Matchbox Films
Region 2
Rated 18
Extras : see main review