I love fairy tales. I’ve written three novels about them (one to be published soon). I also love Korean movies. And in the cinematic world, fairy tales are making a comeback. Well… they’re trying to, anyway. Some of you might have heard of a Jeremy Renner flick coming out called Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which is a new take on the story. Well, it wasn’t the first take on the classic story. And no matter how bloody or off-the-walls the Renner flick gets, I can assure you it will never go to the dark places Korea took it.
This is more of a re-imagining of the story’s themes and ideas than a straight-up retelling of the tale. We follow a young man named Eun-Soo (Jeong-myeong Cheon) as he goes to visit his incredibly ill mother, leaving behind his pregnant wife. But after he gets into a wreck, he wakes up in a dense forest, and he can’t seem to find his way back to the highway. Instead, he finds himself being drawn to house in the middle of the forest, a house labeled “The House of Happy Children”. And in that house lives three children: a little girl, Jung Soon (Ji-hee Jin); a pre-teen girl, Young Hee (Eun-kyung Shim); and a seemingly angry boy, Man-bok (Eun Won-jae). There’s a couple there that appears to be their parents, but they soon disappear and leave Eun-Soo to watch over the kids… who are clearly more than they seem, and they really don’t want him to leave. But soon, a deacon named Byun (Hee-soon Park) and his wife show up, who are also not really who they seem, and everything quickly starts getting out of hand.
I know it doesn’t sound like the original story, but you do have things from the fairy tale sprinkled throughout, from breadcrumbs and candy and stove-related “injuries” to the actual storybook itself being a part of the plot. What’s interesting about this take is that, while adults and/or strangers are still looked at to be bad, it’s the kids that are the “villains” of the film (no real spoilers–it’s evident pretty early on). The suspense comes from discovering to what degree of villainy and why and how things are going down the way they are. And once the Deacon is introduced, you end up with a secondary mystery on your hands.
It actually took me two sittings to get through the film–not because I wasn’t liking it, but because I fell asleep the first time (it was late) and just never got around to finishing it. And that was quite unfortunately. The film is slightly under two hours long, and I stopped it right before the story twisted and things got insane. The first hour is a bit slow and slightly repetitive. You know something is up with these kids, but it never really goes too far into it. Otherwise you’re following Eun-Soo trying to escape the forest and being unable to. But soon into the second hour, you get the background of the kids, and from that moment on, I was totally hooked. I really didn’t see that coming–at least the places the film took it. The film gets really dark and disturbing really fast, as most Korean thrillers tend to do. I mean, the original fairy tale isn’t exactly light stuff, but this goes into “holy shit” territory.
If there was anything that really bothered me, it’s something I’m not even sure was fault of the film. At least how I watched it (through Netflix Instant), the visual style of the film was very strange. It almost looked like the film wasn’t rendered properly, or every other millisecond had a cut in it or something. And it wasn’t my connection, because everything else worked and looked fine when I stopped to double check. (And I watched it via two different household connections.) So I could only assume it was the film itself, and it was really distracting. I eventually just got used to it, but it took me a long time. And I also think that had something to do with me having difficulty getting into the first hour of the film.
Otherwise, I would say if you like the “dark fairy tale” kind of movies, such as Pan’s Labyrinth, definitely check this out. Especially if you like Korean films on top of that. It goes some pretty twisted places, but it’s still a really entertaining horror/thriller/fantasy/drama (yeah… it’s all of them). It’s not gory, though, so no need to worry about that. It’s just dark in its themes and some things that happen in the latter half of the film. And it’s on Instant Streaming currently, so definitely give it a chance. It’s not perfect, and it could have been a little shorter, but it’s still really good.