Review © Larry D. Burns, 2003.

Directed by Ahn Byeong-ki, 2000, 97 min. starring Kim Gyu-ri, Ha Ji-weon, Choi Jeong-yun, Yu Ji-tae, Yu Jun-Sang, and Jo Hye-yeong.

The vengeful spirit is nothing new to the horror movie genre. Horror film annals are littered with them. It's always easy to hate the evil ghost – despite the fact that several wrongs have been committed to make that ghost a ghost. But basic human law dictates to us that killing is wrong and that evil must be punished. Combine that with the fact that we tend to fear what we can't control or understand, then it's always gonna be good versus evil.

But what if evil is born out of evil? Does it have a right to exist then? Does it have a reason to do what it does? That is the moral interplay present in Nightmare (aka Gawi, aka Horror Game Movie, aka Scissors). But before you go looking for a deep, insightful, and morally complex film, HOLD ON! I'm just laying the groundwork here… :-)

Granted I haven’t seen that many Korean horror films (or Korean films in general) so I may be wrong with this generalization, but I found Nightmare to be relatively faster-paced than most Korean films (anyone who has seen the painstakingly-slow Sorum will know what I'm talking about here), a concept I found refreshing. Part of the edge that this movie has is its impressive editing, which is used to full effect in certain scenes. But one might find himself thinking "Oh yeah, I've seen this before", since it does heavily borrow styles and gimmicks from several Western slasher films. If not for the oriental actors, you'd think you were watching a Wes Craven extravaganza.

Despite this, I still can't bring myself to call it a copycat. There’s still something original going on throughout this film that I can't seem to put my finger on. Maybe it's the performances. Perhaps it's the attempts at gore that most mainstream Western horror flicks tend to shy away from. For all the been there, seen that feeling which is prevalent in the film, it still stands out as a semi-impressive horror movie.

Ambivalent? Well yes, and no ;-)

Synopsis

“Kyung-ah brings death, even after being dead herself…”

The story is quite difficult to summarize, since three different time frames hold three different key plot points. But I'll try…

The story begins with Hye-jin (Gyu-ri Kim) coming home from school, and she finds on her doorstep Seon-ae (Jeong-yun Choi), an old college friend and member of their group A Few Good Men that she hasn't seen in two years. They catch up, ask about what's going on with the rest of the group. But clearly Hye-jin sees something is troubling her friend, especially when she brings up an old classmate of theirs, Kyung-ah (Ji-won Ha) who died under mysterious circumstances. She brushes this off as perhaps a case of jetlag.

The next morning, Hye-jin meets up with the other members of A Few Good Men and discovers they too seem to have unresolved issues with this Kyung-ah. Se-Hun keeps painting her, but can’t seem to remember her face, and Hyun-jun (Ji-tae Yu) once a promising athlete, now a steel mill worker after a broken knee rendered him unable to play sports, has nothing but awful things to say about her. And the rest of the group, lawyer (and brother to Hyun-jun) Jeong-ok (Jun-Sang Yu), and actress Mi-Ryeong (Hye-yeong Jo) seem to want to be quiet on the issue. This leads Hye-jin to believe that they do share a terrible secret, one that will manifest itself soon.

However, in a flashback scene detailing events which happened two years ago, Hye-jin meets a young woman who introduces herself as Eun-ju. Hye-jin feels a certain amount of empathy for her, it’s almost as if she had known her from before. The two become good friends, and eventually she asks Eun-ju to be a part of their group; although the girl is hesitant to begin with, finally she reluctantly agrees.

When Eun-ju is introduced to the other Good Men, sparks fly (good kind) between her and Hyun-jun, and even more sparks fly (bad kind) between her and Sun-ae, since Sun-ae has a major crush on Hyun-jun. Her anger is further fueled when she sees them kissing in the garden one afternoon. Scorned, Sun-ae makes it her personal mission to destroy Eun-ju.

She gets her chance one night, when the group decide to get together at Se-hun's studio. While waiting for Eun-ju to arrive, she tells the story of a little girl that she and Hye-jin used to know during their childhood in the country - alittle girl who was believed to be possessed by an evil spirit and hence was blamed for all sorts of horrible things. Her name was Kyung-ah.

However, during the telling of the tale, Eun-ju arrives, just in time for Sun-ae's grand revelation. Sun-ae continues by telling the story of a horrific bus accident involving Kyung-ah, where she was the only survivor and everyone else was killed. The same little girl that was in the vicinity of, and therefore was blamed for, the death of Hye-jin's father. Kyung-ah was never heard from again after that summer...

Sun-ae then finishes off her tale by dramatically announcing that their latest Few Good Men member, Eun-ju, is, in actuality, Kyung-ah... the supposedly-possessed little girl responsible for Hye-Jin's father's death.

Hye-jin is shocked at this revelation, and confronts Eun-ju with it. Unsurprisingly, Eun-ju confesses the truth, and tells Hye-jin she only wants to be her friend again. Feeling betrayed, she tells Eun-ju to stay out of her life forever, and she walks out on the group. After a few moments to herself, Hye-jin decides to walk back to the studio, where she finds Eun-ju atop the building, as she plummets to her death.

Back in the present time, however, riddled with guilt, Eun-ju's suicide still haunts Hye-jin to this day. And quite literally, at that, as she experiences a Ju-on like apparition upon awakening. A few seconds later, she gets a frantic phone call from Sun-ae that Kyung-ah is after her. Meanwhile, Se-hun is making out with some girl in his car. She steps out to pee, and in true horror movie tradition, Se-hun is attacked by the vengeful ghost of Kyung-ah. She rips Se-hun's eyeball out, but he manages to run to a pay phone to call Hyun-jun and tell him that Kyung-ah is after him; and I'm sure you can imagine what happens to Se-hun in the phone booth... ;-)

The next morning, the remaining Few Good Men get a note saying that Kyung-ah's revenge has begun. They brush it off as a prank, but are unnerved by it nonetheless. At this time, Jeong-ok tells the group that Sun-ae underwent psychiatric treatment while she was in the US. This makes her an easy culprit for all the pranks, since it was after all her who initiated Eun-ju's demise.

During this time, Hyun-jun, temporarily living in Se-hun’s studio, wants to get his life in order, and enlists the help of his lawyer brother to help get the family business back. Being the levelheaded older brother, he says it's a lost cause, and that he should give up on it. This sparks some sibling rivalry with the two, and Hyun-jun tells him off. After an angry rampage, he discovers a videotape labeled A Few Good Men. He watches it and discovers some pretty incriminating footage on it. So he uses this tape to blackmail his brother for cash, much to the sibling's chagrin. We later see on the tape proof that Jeong-ok and Mi-ryeong have been having an affair and are still continuing to do so, even though Jeong-ok is married.

Reveling in his victory at Se-hun’s studio, Hyun-jun gets an unexpected visit from Kyung-ah, leaving his corpse to be discovered by the paranoid pair of Jeong-ok and Mi-ryeong, who are in search of the original of the blackmail video. While looking for the tape, they discover Sun-ae there; it would appear she has the original video, but runs away with it so the couple can't get it back. Fearing for a scandal, the two decide to break it off finally, and as a result, something terrible happens in the shower...

So with the three remaining Few Good Men, their fates seem to be sealed. They increasingly become more paranoid of each other, still thinking that one of them is the murderer who has killed all the rest - especially since Hye-jin stumbles upon the videotape and sees what actually happened to Eun-ju after she had left the night she committed suicide. But why the vengeance? Why the murders?

On the surface, Gawi seems pretty much cut and paste when it comes to the plot, although there are some things that might actually surprise you. The movie actually has some interesting plot twists that could get you either seriously involved with the story, or completely disinterested in finding out what happens. It’s a film that could go either way – a real love-it-or-hate-it movie.

More than anything, the film succeeds in giving you a good mystery. It's not a mystery where the viewer doesn't know who the killer is until the end; it's more of an open question as to why is the murderer committing these heinous crimes at all. You really can't peg who the villain is, but it's clear who the hero is. All the characterizations are valid, except perhaps some hammy acting towards the end on the part of Jun-Sang Yu (Jeong-ok). Ji-won Ha (luminous star of another Ahn Byeong-ki frightfest reviewed on this site, Phone) plays the 'good' Eun-ju with absolute sympathy, but her parallel role as the 'evil' Kyung-Ah has an annoying tendency to be a tad stoic, and not very scary. Marilyn Manson scares me more ;-) As for the rest of the performances, they're pretty impressive – no one goes overboard.

The special effects are used sporadically, but to good effect. Simple scare tactics are rampant throughout the film, not really intended to scare you, but to merely push the plot along. Twists and turns abound, and with good editing, vibrant coloring, and excellent camera work, Nightmare succeeds in being a well-made horror movie.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 6/10
Chills: 2/10
Violence: 6/10
Sex: 3/10
Shock Factor: 1/10 - let's face it, if you've seen Phone and its ilk, you know what's coming
Sadako Factor: Butt-clenchingly high
Needle to Eyelid Ratio: Butt-clenchingly high
Black-haired Girl Ghosts in a sub-Sadako style: 2, if you count the little one and the big one
Other Films Which Bear An Uncanny Resemblence to Gawi: Phone, Ring, Memento Mori, Inner Senses

***A good mystery story with some nice visuals, but only really worth renting***

Gawi Wallpaper

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]

Wallpaper credit: Larry D Burns, 2003

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Ahn Byeong-ki
Kim Gyu-ri
Ha Ji-weon

Links

http://www.sanchodoesasia.com/sdk/sdk_nightmare.php - Sancho Does Asia have never let us down yet :-) - as ever, a great review by Akatomy, with some high-quality pics [French only]
http://www.nixflix.com/reviews/nightmare.htm - fairly well-observed review from Nixflix, sadly lacking in imagery though - some useful buying links and cast/crew information
http://koreanfilm.org/kfilm00.html#nightmare - a very good short review, with some interesting insights from a Korean point of view

http://starbase.mine.nu/~xup/slasherpool/htm/reviews/nightmare.htm - another well-written review at Slasherpool, this time with a small image gallery
http://cultcuts.net/nightmare.htm - a very long (and overly positive) review, with a full plot outline, technical specifications and a few pictures - slightly spoiler-intensive (like we're not ;-)), so be warned
http://www.asianfilms.org/korea/nightmare.html - short review with print source and relevant information
http://www.cinema-nocturna.com/nightmare_review.htm - a longer review, with some images

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