Directed by Kim Seong-ho, Korea, 2003, 112 min. starring Yu Ji-Tae, Kim Myeong-min, Kim Hye-na, and Gi Ju-bong.
The concept of parallel worlds isn't new to cinema, or to general science and/or mythology either. Since the days of The Twilight Zone (and I'm sure way before that) there's an inherent creep factor attached to the "other side" that has been told in countless stories through time. We always enjoy seeing the possibilities of the boundless imagination on these writers and filmmakers. Sometimes, they astound us, sometimes, they disappoint.
But then comes along Into The Mirror, a Korean film that explores the possibility of a parallel world within mirrors. The concept is somewhat original (though, from what I remember, traces of it are found in The Changeling - or I could be wrong) and the execution, fairly involving. It's slow-moving, well-acted, slick, stylish, and all you need to find in an Asian horror film.
But I'm sure you're waiting for the big BUT, aren't you? Well, I'll get in to that in a bit.
A woman is found dead in the bathroom of Dreampia, a huge department store, her throat slashed. The death is put down to suicide, there being no evidence of anyone else having been present. The store, initially closed because of a terrible fire a year previously, automatically becomes the subject of supernatural speculation - all before the grand re-opening. All the negative press surrounding the mall causes the owners much worry, in addition to the families of the fire victims demanding compensation – but still not enough to keep the store from reopening.
Along with the police force, the store's own security is put on alert for any suspicious activity. Here we meet Yeong-Min (Yu Ji-Tae, last seen hamming it up as the bad guy in Oldboy), a security guard with a past. Previously a cop, he quit after his previously sharp shooting skills ended up failing him in a hostage situation, his hot-headedness resulting in his partner getting killed. Quitting the force, the only job he's willing to find is as Chief of Security at Dreampia – but only because his uncle, who runs the store, basically created the post for him. It doesn't help Yeong-Min that the cop in charge of the investigations was a former colleague of his, Hyeon-su who now has nothing but pity and contempt for Yeong-Min.
The suicide hypothesis vanishes though as soon as there's another strange death / apparent suicide, this time in a lift. There are enough questions about these two deaths now for a full investigation to be launched, although the police want Yeong-Min to stay out of it. He can't though, much to the annoyance of Hyeon-su, and regularly treads on their toes trying to work out what's going on. Of course, by now rumours are flying around that the store is haunted… not helped by yet another mysterious death in Dreampia's underground car park, again with no obvious suspect. Of course, while the characters in the movie have no clue what's going on, the the apparition of a strange woman appears regularly in strange corners, out of view of everyone but the viewer…
Doing a bit of investigating himself, Yeong-Min works out a link between the three victims – they all worked in the same office before the fire – and finds a woman who is the spitting image of the only store employee to die in the fire, Lee Jeong-hyeon. Conveniently, it's her twin, Lee Ji-heyon. She's just been released from a mental institution and believes that her deceased sister is living in mirrors. This leads Yeong-Min to plead his theories to Hyeon-su, who scoffs at him. Things get worse when the police discover that Yeong-Min has been meeting with Ji-hyeon, the number one suspect in the murders occurring at the mall.
Nevertheless, nothing can stop Dreampia from reopening – except for the reluctance of the general public to actually go in the store on the first day. Bribed with cash thrown from the roof, all goes well for about twenty minutes until, in the middle of a fashion show, the ghost reappears and freaks out all and sundry, resulting in a mass panic, all customers stampeding through every exit. One guesses the stockholders will not be pleased...
Will Yeong-Min solve the mystery of the tortured Dreampia spirit, destined to ruin the stockholders' investment, whilst coming to terms with his own demons? Will the ghost get her revenge on her killer? What do you think? ;-)
Though technically sound and well told, Into the Mirror suffers from its own ambiguity. It's trying to be so many things at the same time - part murder mystery, part horror movie, part corporate thriller, and part cop drama. As one story line progresses, you get caught up in it while forgetting the other elements, before the plot then lurches off on yet another course. Even though each story element is essential for the story being told, you can't help but feel it's fragmented to the point of incoherence. You don't get a sense of the film's identity, because there isn't one. It's trying to be so many things that you forget sometimes what you're watching. For example, the first six minutes or so are a fantastic example of how to make a decent horror movie... unfortunately it's only six minutes, and then suddenly we're into the humdrum cop drama / murder mystery / corporate thriller that makes up the rest of this close to two hour movie.
That said, the movie is well made. It looks shiny, slick and sophisticated. The camera angles are always interesting, the special effects shots (especially involving mirrors) are flawless, and the editing is quite decent. The performances are also acceptable. I was, however impressed with Ji-Tae Yu's acting. You feel his frailty and awkwardness all the while trying to keep whatever dignity he has left - a complete 360-degree turn from his charismatic and devious portrayal in Oldboy. There's also a welcome cameo from Young-jin Lee, the female lead in Memento Mori, who once again, albeit briefly, adds an element of class to proceedings.
But, but, but, Into The Mirror lacks any sense of tension, or chill, or resonance, or verve. It's just there. It's a jack of all trades and a master of none. It's reminiscent of a TV cop drama, and maybe it would suit a mini-series format better, but as a two hour feature it just doesn't deliver. Its fundamental lack of focus is a huge disappointment, and if director Seong-ho Kim (who wrote the screenplay as well) had focused solely on one of the many plot strands in this movie it would have been far more successful on an artistic level than it actually is. Into The Mirror should be filed under the category of a well-intentioned film that tries ever so hard to deliver what it's supposed to, but which is eminently forgettable in the long run. Two steps away from being extraordinary. A pity.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Chills: 10/10 for the first six minutes, for the remaining 106 minutes, 2/10
Haunted department stores: no amount of sales will help this one
Pissed-off stockholders: 10/10
Films in a Similar Style: Phone, Gawi, Ju-on, Guard from the Underworld, Kairo... etc
*** Competent but frustrating and soulless ***
This film is being released by Tartan Video in the UK in April 2005.
Into The Mirror Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.
You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2005
Snowblood Apple Filmographies
http://www.tartanvideo.com/ - Tartan are releasing the movie in the UK
http://www.asiaextreme.co.uk/intothemirror/ - a Tartan subsite with synopsis and trailer
http://www.hancinema.net/korean_movie_Into_The_Mirror.php - The ever excellent Han Cinema's section on the movie with news articles, e-cards, trailers and a music video
http://www.kfccinema.com/reviews/horror/intothemirror/intothemirror.html - KFC's comprehensive coverage
http://www.movie-gazette.com/cinereviews/964 - Positive review from Movie Gazette.
http://www.dvdtimes.co.uk/content.php?contentid=56864 - comprehensive review of movie and the Tartan two-disc set
http://film.guardian.co.uk/Film_Page/0,4061,1257116,00.html - a couple of guarded reviews from The Grauniad