masterly master lee

a home for forgotten and famous korean pulp, its heroes, its heroines, and its pulpeteers

Epitaph 기담 2007 review

epitaph.jpgThere is little argument that horror movies belong to the pulp genre. Nonetheless, here on Masterly Master Lee you’ll not find too many of them. Why? Because they’re BORING! At least, that is what Master Lee thinks. And pity the fool who’d argue with him. The endless churning out of unimaginative slasher flicks (especially in the summer, when the audience’s thirst for blood is apparently at a high) has vexed him more than a little bit. The other night, though, Master Lee more by accident than by design came to watch the Jeong brothers’ 정가형제 Epitaph, a horror movie set in Keijō 京城 (Gyeongseong 경성 in Korean; the name the Japanese gave Seoul during the colonial period) in 1942. And lo and behold, from the first frame onwards it was clear that this was no cheap slasher or badly acted killer thriller. The art direction and cinematography are at times breath-taking (although the street scenes of Keijō in the snow are a bit Im Kwŏn-t’aek-esque; and no, that is not a good thing as anybody who has seen Raging Years 하류인생 knows) and the sound is just out of this world. The sound engineer managed to create a frighteningly efficient atmosphere for the three different stories that are played out against the background of a Keijō hospital. The editing is picture-perfect; the frights are genuine and the ghosts are scary and yet feel real. One scene in particular stands out, when the ghost of a dead mother sits at the bed of her hospitalized daughter. epitaph1.jpgHer gurgling cuts right through the marrow and while she is not there to scare her daughter but to console her, the effect on the daughter (and on Master Lee, truth be told) was unnerving. The strong point of the movie, however, is not its cinematography, its fear-provoking sounds or its excellent acting. Epitaph gives a truly functional take on the human condition by forcing its audience to consider and meditate upon life, death and coping with loss. This is probably the most thought-provoking horror movie ever made in Korea, first because it makes one think and second because the scenario is well-nigh impossible to follow! Yes, this is a very-well made movie and a truly welcome respite from all those turgid summer slashers with the next latest teen idols, but what happened to the guy (or girl) in charge of the scenario? I guess one could excuse the lack of coherence by appealing to arty-farty sensibilities and there is little doubt that this movie would be an instantaneous art house hit, but it just happens to be so that Master Lee don’t like no arty-farty mumbo jumbo. He likes his movies to be understandable to those among us who think with their feet and talk with their fists. And Epitaph just isn’t. And that’s a pity, because it is such a well-made, well-thought out movie with incredible sound and what’s more a movie that manages to treat the highly politicized colonial period in a non-political and entirely natural way, giving us a possible glance at what life during that period may have been like. Next time, dear Jeong brothers, consult with Master Lee about the scenario. Now you’ve left him a wee bit confused and the epithet masterly pulp must be withheld. Honest pulp, though, it is, even though Master Lee is still trying to figure out what the hell happened.

Master Lee wants a special mention for Kim Bogyeong 김보경, one of his very favorite Korean actresses. Here it is, then, the special mention with special bonus pics.

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