Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Arang (2007)

Arang is a beautifully shot Korean chiller about a detective (Yooh Ah) and her new rookie partner (Dong Wook) who are investigating a series of strange deaths. The victims, all who happen to be childhood friends, die from a poisonous gas that seems to originate from inside their own bodies. The deaths seem unexplainable, especially since all the victims had a very scared look on their face when they died. The detectives soon uncover deep buried secrets having to do with a supposedly haunted salt mill on the coast and a girl who’s been missing for ten years.

I put off watching Arang, mainly because I thought it was the same tired Asian ghost movie that featured a long-haired woman. While it does feature a long-haired ghost woman, Arang still manages to be suspenseful and immensely engaging. This is the first Asian horror flick that in quite some time that didn’t have me rolling my eyeballs at it in exasperation. It actually kept me glued to the screen, scared me and managed to have a twist I didn’t see coming at the end.

Arang has similarities to other Asian horror movies, but the story takes a very different approach. Instead of focusing those threatened by a curse or a ghost, Arang’s focus is on the two detectives on the case. While the victims are dispatched one-by-one, the detectives start piecing together the puzzle of the deaths and become aware of the supposedly haunted salt mill. The movie plays more like a mystery or thriller with some truly terrifying scenes that feature the long-haired ghost.

Besides being genuinely creepy, Arang has some very elegant shots. This is director Ah Sang Hoon’s first feature film, and he and cinematographer Sir Laosson Dara certainly infuse the film with a classy feel, at the same time scaring the pants off of viewers! I was genuinely creeped out at the wedding photo scene (even though it was very similar to Shutter) and the desk scene. While these scenes both felt slightly familiar, they still made me jump outta my seat! The scenes of the Korean coast were breathtaking, and the salt mill was appropriately creepy.

The only place Arang failed me were some confusing scenes that seemed a little too convenient for my liking. For example, one of the victims has a dog that either died alongside him or died before he did (I never did catch which). The detectives randomly decide to dig it up, then slice open its belly to find an incriminating film. Hmmmm, how handy! Also, things are never quite clear towards the end (why was the man with the scar on his hand a target?) and don’t quite add up.

Beside these plot holes and weak points, the film was still entertaining. The mix of the detective story and ghost story worked quite well and I found myself wholeheartedly enjoying Arang, even when I had expected the same old Asian horror clichés. I even enjoyed myself when the film did stoop to the tired clichés, which is saying a lot.

You won’t find many new ideas within Arang, but its fresh perspective on the typical Asian ghost story will keep you intrigued, scared and perhaps even surprised at the twist at the end.

Available on Amazon!

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