Following the death of a teenager Sang-mi, her aunt Sun-joo investigates. Finding the cryptic message "we shouldn't have watched it" on her niece's mobile, Sun-joo finds that four of Sang-mi's friends died at exactly the same time, albeit in different places. Securing the videotape that the quartet watched together, Sun-joo finds she has been cursed after playing it herself. The evidence (a supernaturally smudged passport photo of herself) convinces her to enlist the help of the open-minded Dr. Choi. With only a week to go, the two search for a way to reverse the spell, and are given a heightened sense of urgency when Sun-joo's daughter Boram watches the tape.

Who needs to see another spin-off of Hideo Nakata's RINGU? That insidiously creepy film itself was a retread of a TV movie, and was followed by both an honourable sequel (RINGU 2) and then an intriguing prequel (RINGU 0). Recently cannibalised by Hollywood's prolific cut and paste department for the creatively devoid, it had already in fact been done with this 1999 feature: incredibly, this Japanese-Korean retread was made the same year as Hideo Nakata's sequel, and marks an unwanted addition to the cramped urban legend genre; a genre that now spans both Eastern and Western cultures!

Dreary and uninspiring, RING VIRUS is exactly the kind of parasitic film that not only constitutes the law of diminishing returns, but which greatly devalues its 'originals'. The film is marred by some clunky camerawork, listless lighting and detached performances, although some strange minor details - like a blackened foetus on a hospital trolley that is exposed when a white bed sheet falls off - contribute suitable weirdness to the proceedings. RING VIRUS' major flaw is a near fatal one: anyone familiar with the RINGU films in circulation will be aware of the constantly retold story, but this factor doesn't seem to have been acknowledged by its makers. The seeker protagonists are so slow on the uptake that we are distanced from them. We have to wait for them to catch up to us, and the palpable sense of foreboding that made the predecessors so compelling is all but absent.

This lack of speed flaunted by the characters is in fact used productively, in one area. The leisurely attitude of Dr. Choi (and lack of urgency of other characters whose help Sun-joo tries to enlist) adds a layer of escalating panic to the action, especially considering that Sun-joo watched the tape a day before he did, and has even less time to save herself. It is the scrutiny of the dreaded tape, however, that distinguishes RING VIRUS from its predecessors and antecedents. The tape, we find, was recorded telepathically onto video: the abstract images are layers of a sick, powerful mind that need to be deciphered in order to negate the curse. Despite this, the film is far too familiar, with its final third island setting and climax in a well. We've seen it done before. We've also seen it done better.

Review by Matthew Sanderson

Released by Tai Seng UK
Region 2 PAL
Rated 18
Extras : see main review