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A few weeks ago, Film4 had a frightfest season on their channel that showed lots of supposedly scary movies including a few foreign flicks. Hansel And Gretel was just one of several mediocre offerings that the the channel had on offer...
Now I like Korean and Japanese Asian horror flicks, there have been some right classics over the years including The Ring and Ju-On (The Grudge) as two famous examples, but really didn't think much of this!
The basic premise of this film is straight out of Twilight Zone: The Movie territory with this simple tale, an updated verrsion of an old fairy tale, in which a distracted businessman crashes his car somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Awaking in the dead of night, he follows a young girl to her cottage in the woods but once there finds it impossible to leave. The parents, at first acting forced and mysterious, soon disappear and the businessman is left in charge of the girl and her brother. Then another stranded couple turn up and things get really wierd.
I'm not going to reveal any spoilers, such as they are, and not going to give away what is actually going on but, if you stick with it, this isn't all bad. It just feels very average and mediocre at best when compared to other foreign "extreme horror" films. In fact, it's not really a horror at all with no real major scares to be had throughout.
All in all this was okay but not worth buying or renting. Wait till it's on telly again and tape it so you can watch it at a later stage cos stayting up till the early hours of the moning for this to end really wasn't a very rewarding experience and kind of numbed me with tedium waiting for the ig pay-off at the end that never really happened.
Genre - Horror (2007)
Country - Korean (subtitles)
Run Time - 117 minutes
Certificate - 15
Japan was top dog for horror movies a while back but there is no doubt Korea are coming into the picture with their own take on the Asian Extreme genre, Hollywood increasingly put to shame in the genre by the Far East. They have a unique way of making movies in all the various genres and their horror films particularly atmospheric, this one no different.
Jeong-myeong Cheon ... EunSu
Young-nam Jang ... Soojeong
Sun-Kim Tong - Kim Jeongsun:
Ji-hee Jin ... Jung Soon
Kyeong-ik Kim ... Youngsik - byun
Hee-soon Park ... Deacon - byun
Eun-kyung Shim ... Young Hee
Eun Won-jae ... Manbok
Haeyoung: Eunsu's girlfriend.
Young salesman EunSu (Jeong-myeong Cheon) is distracted at the wheel whilst talking to his wife on the phone and crashes off the road and into a wooded revine as night is setting in. He awakens in a dazed heap to be rescued by a mysterious young girl wrapped in a red cloak, Soojeound (Young-nam Jang), who leads him to her parents cottage deep in the woods so safety. The house looks like its straight from those classic fairytales, a roaring log fire, fairy cakes on the table and candy canes on the mantelpiece.
Soojeound lives with her 13-year-old brother Manbook (Eun Won-jae) and little sister Kim Jeongsun (Sun-Kim Tong) and what appears to be their parents, Young Hee (Eun-kyung Shim) and a homely and pretty woman called Jung Soon (Ji-hee Jin). They are extremely welcoming and very pleased to meet him.
EunSu agrees to sleep the night and so he can set out in the morning fully refreshed to find the road after recovering from his crash. But when he tries to leave, he gets lost in the mysterious wood and returns to the cottage after going around in circles. After another night in the cottage it's the same thing the next day, all rather odd and a real head scratcher. Although the kids are cute they are a little too creepy for comfort and he knows deep down something very odd is going on and he needs to solve the mystery to escape the woods.
The next day a young couple arrive at the cottage, also lost in the woods after straying from the highway, a man called Deacon- Byun (Hee-soon Park) a preacher of sorts and his girlfriend Youngsik - byun (Kyeong-ik Kim) both enticed to the cottage by young Manbok. Youngsik has her eyes on the many valuables in the cottage whilst the seedy and greasy Deacon-Byun is drawn to the kids. At this point its clear there is a supernatural air to the house and kids but they are also tormented and so should Eun- Soo stay around to keep the kids safe from the new arrivals and break the curse or keep trying to flee the woods before its too late for them all.
Well it's not bad as far as the story goes although it does go on a bit around the films simple premise that isn't really expanded on when it needs to be. The main protagonists being trapped in the fairytale that's really the kids nightmare is all very fine but that point is hammered into us too much until the films convoluted ending, the way Dr Who does.
Visually it's a treat and every scene immaculate and suitably spooky when needed too slowly unravel the mystery, as sedate as that pace is, feeling like the director is actually painting the Brothers Grimm portrait (with rest breaks) as you watch it. As far as the horror goes its not that scary and certainly not gory, very much in a traditional style. It's more about the mystery than the body count. The director pushes the point that kids often behave like adults and vice versa in broken families and the specter of pedophilia also lingers like a band smell here, the horror of kids going feral when the parents aren't around, or strong enough, a common theme to horror films, as is the always subtle suggestion of pedophilia that you seem to get in most horror films that have kids in. Saying that it's interesting and enigmatic enough as you unpick the mystery and looks great so worth a rent or record, a fine example of one of those interesting Korean moviemakers out there.
Imdb.com - 6.9/10 (1,799 votes)
Rottentomatos.com - 73% critic's approval rating
Metacritc.com - 82% critic's approval rating
Time Out - 'It's inconsistent: too predictable and simplistic for adults, too disturbing and bloody for their offspring. It's hard to know who it's for'.
The Guardian -'Making up for a selection of recent Asian Horror disappointments, this lush, surreal and brilliantly dark fairy tale is an entertaining and deliciously unsettling experience'.
The Times - 'The production design is terrific - the color palette is as lurid as a plate of cupcakes. But the film loses its tension in a baggy final act that over explains the secret of the house'.
The Guardian -'Revenge by abandoned children on the treachery of grown-ups ought to be unsetting at the very least, if not spine-tingingly terrifying. But it's done so clumsily that nothing remotely spooky emerges'.
NY Post - 'This is consummate filmmaking, where every frame beguiles and unnerves in equal measure'.
Film's Title - Hansel and Gretel
Year of Release - 2007
Director - Pil-Sung Yim
Stars of the Film - Chun Jeong-myeong, Shim Eun-kyoung, Eun Won-jae
UK rating - 15
It is hard to believe that a year ago, the scariest film I had seen was probably Carry On Screaming! Then I received the 1931 films of Dracula and Frankenstein on DVD for Christmas. After loving both of these, I watched more of the Universal Monster films, before moving on to the silent movies of the 1920s like the excellent Nosferatu. I watched the entire Hammer Collection DVD boxset, followed by anything I could find on Dracula and Frankenstein over the years.
I then began to hear great things about Pan's Labyrinth, so I bought the DVD and found a new love - Guillermo Del Toro. After watching most of his back catalogue, I asked for suggestions from fellow film fans as to which other movies were of a similar style. So it was that on a late September evening, I came to watch my first ever Korean horror movie...
Hansel and Gretel is a South Korean film which was released in 2007 and is loosely based on the fairytale on the same name. It is in Korean, so we English speakers have to follow the subtitles. I know nothing of the language, but found this really didn't matter at all and I was swept away into the film almost immediately. Not only was I captured by this unusual and beautiful film, but so was my fourteen-year-old daughter who has ADHD and Aspergers! That alone is an outstanding compliment for this movie.
The story begins with our hero, Eun-Soo, who is driving his car while talking to his pregnant girlfriend on the phone. Eun-Soo is played by an actor referred to as Jeong-myeong Cheon on IMDb or as Chun Jeong-myeong as it says on the DVD cover. His car crashes and when he regains consciousness, he finds himself in the forest. He wakes to find a young girl holding a lantern and she takes him to her home to recover.
The young girl is called Young Hee (Shim Eun-kyoung) and her home life seems idyllic. She lives with her parents, older brother Man-bok (Eun Won-jae) and younger sister Jung Soon (Ji-hee Jin). They provide a perfect picture - each one dressed immaculately, each child beautiful and apparently happy.
Their house is amazing too. Like the perfect gingerbread cottage, it is bright and sparkling, set up like a never-ending Christmas Day with rooms full of toys and meals of sweets and cupcakes. But if you look closer, things don't seem to be quite so perfect.
The television shows a bizarre cartoon where a rabbit pulls off a teddy bear's limbs; there are some spooky looking dolls and rabbit toys around the house - and are the parents as happy as they first seem - or is there something else behind those smiles? Could it be fear?
As Eun-soo decides to leave the house, he discovers this isn't as easy as he expects. Each time he tries to escape, he ends up back at the house. Will he ever be able to get free again? And just what do the children want from him?
This is an absolutely amazing film in every respect. The story is an intriguing one and grabs you straight away, as you want to find out what is going to happen and what on earth is going on! It is also a stunning film visually. It is shot beautifully with the house being brightly lit and highly coloured, as if viewed in a dream-like state or maybe something from Alice in Wonderland.
Baubles, beads, toys and Christmas trees tempt you in with promises of pleasure, yet scratch the surface and you begin to notice little oddities which suggest things are not really as they seem. There are whispers in the night-time, threats in the shadows and a menace lurking somewhere just out of sight. This film has the idea of horror exactly right - Horror is not in what you see, but in what you MIGHT see.
You are not subjected to masses of blood and gore (though there is some), but rather, you are perched on the edge of your seat, as you are not sure what to expect. This is far more effective than ninety minutes of severed heads, hanging scenes and butchered corpses.
In some ways, this could be categorised as more of a ghost story, perhaps. It reminded me of the brilliance of Guillermo Del Toro, the spooky atmosphere of The Orphanage (El Orfanato) and some of the weirder episodes of Sapphire and Steel, where you are never completely sure what happened, but enjoyed the ride nonetheless. In the same way, there is an ambiguous ending, where you see things how you want to see it and the final interpretation is up to you. This film requires you to think - and that is never a bad thing.
The director Pil-Sung Yim has a wonderful vision and the film realises this beautifully. The music is also excellent and really enhances the mood of the piece. The special effects are not over-used, but are effective and believable.
The acting is the main aspect of the film that will be noticed on first viewing. It is excellent throughout, but particularly outstanding are the three young actors who play the children. The littlest girl (who is adorable and has a really infectious laugh) was only ten years old at the time of filming, while the other girl and the boy were both fifteen. They are AMAZING actors! You really need to watch Hansel and Gretel just to see their talent and what can be achieved with young actors when they are working with a sensitive director and an amazing story.
This is a long film at almost two hours, but both me and my daughter were completely riveted, as if we were glued to our seats, face forward and could not turn away. This morning, my daughter was telling her friend about this brilliant Korean film she had seen and how she wants to see more of the same. What high praise for World Cinema!
Hansel and Gretel is one of the best movies I have ever seen. I loved everything about it! It is magical, enthralling, intriguing, captivating, beautiful, spooky, creepy, unnerving, tense... and really needs to be seen by everyone.
The DVD features the teaser trailer and full trailer for Hansel and Gretel plus trailers for three other Korean movies. There is also an interview with the VFX director and an interview with the production designer.
There is a 55-minute featurette which follows the usual 'making of' documentary format. It is worth seeing, especially to watch the inspiring director and to see how he operates. It shows some scenes being filmed and he also explains the appeal of the story, why he wanted to film it and the special attraction of the fantasy element.
The three children are interviewed and all come across very well. The director praises them, noting how good and professional they are, as well as being hard workers. The cast and crew give the kids lots of support too, especially after they film emotional and intense scenes. At one point, this documentary shows the little girl getting upset crying so much in one scene, that she needs a cuddle, which is very sweet and also shows how much it took out of them to film some of the hardest scenes.
This documentary also shows how they created some of the effects too. It is interesting to see how these are filmed and it is fun to see green grass right next to the snow!
The only criticism I have of this documentary is that not all of it is subtitled and I wanted to know what was being said all the time, not just when they could be bothered to tell me! But overall, it is well worth a watch.
Hansel and Gretel is currently £5.49 on DVD from Amazon UK.
Hansel and Gretel (2007)
The film opens with an introduction to Eun-Soo; a young man driving along a secluded highway flanked either side by dense woodland. Whilst speaking to his pregnant girlfriend on his mobile phone he has to swerve suddenly to avoid hitting an animal in the middle of the road and loses control of his car. Crashing into the woodland Eun-Soo is knocked out and is seemingly badly injured.
After an unspecified amount of time he regains consciousness and manages to free himself from his damaged car only to realise that he is now off-road and lost the woodland. Stumbling his way through the woods Eun-Soo becomes frantic and disorientated and eventually happens across a young girl who is carrying a lantern. Introducing herself as Young-hee she offers to assist Eun-Soo and explains that she lives nearby and invites the stranger to return home with her where he can rest and clean up. Grateful for the help, Eun-Soo accompanies the young girl back to her house in the forest where he is introduced to Mom, Dad, older brother and younger sister.
Entering the house bizarrely named "House of Happy Children" Eun-Soo is taken aback by the Christmas decorations that adorn the home and the toys and games that are strewn all over. Mom and Dad are happy to receive a visitor, even a stranger, but seem a little on edge, when Eun-Soo ask if he can use their phone to call his girlfriend he is fobbed off with excuses and is told simply to rest and clean up.
Next day Eun-Soo wakes to discover breakfast waiting for him; cakes and biscuits - the children's favourite food. Mom and Dad seem to cater for the children's every desire but seem uncomfortable around them and when Eun-Soo asks if they can help out of the forest and into town they seem reluctant to want to leave the children explaining that the youngest Jung-soon is too weak. Deciding to find his own way out, Eun-Soo thanks the family for their hospitality and ventures back into the forest alone only to return back to the house sometime later claiming that he could find no exit.
When Mom and Dad go missing leaving behind them a hurriedly written note asking Eun-Soo to take care of the children in their absence it soon becomes apparent that all is not as it seems. An appearance by two new strangers who are up to no good forces Eun-Soo to become a protector to the children, but as he is about to discover they are not the ones who need protecting.
What secrets are the children hiding? Why can't Eun-Soo leave the forest and Where have Mom and Dad gone? This gem of a film from South Korea will answer those questions in what has been described as a "modern day fairy tale for adults"
==Why I Watched this Film==
A while ago I watched and wrote a review about another South Korean film called A Tale of Two Sisters and at the time described it as one of the best foreign films I had ever seen. Whilst finding out more information about that film I read that Hansel and Gretel had often been compared to it so as it was on sale on Amazon for just £5.00 I decided that it was a small amount to pay and if it was half as good as 'Two Sisters' then I wouldn't be disappointed. Having watched Hansel and Gretel today I can understand why comparisons have been made between the two films but have to say that out of the two Hansel and Gretel delivers its story in a much more straight-forward manner and isn't as ambiguous as ATOTS was and absolutely blew me away.
==House of Happy Children?==
Children have often been overused in films in the past portrayed as being the 'devil incarnate' and whilst you know from the start that the children featured here are not quite 'right' the film doesn't try to demonise them in any way or make them do things that are unrealistic. Indeed, surprisingly for me at least the children themselves provide the strongest and most believable acting roles in the whole of the flawless cast and you can't help but get taken in by their story. Throughout the film you are given visual clues and spoken dialogue that slowly begins to piece together why they are how they are and whilst you may be able to work out what has happened to them in their past the truth of the matter is that you won't be prepared for the truth when it is revealed during the final 30 minutes. Jee-hi Jin as the youngest child Jung-soon gives a remarkable performance combining moments of intense cuteness with malevolence which is rarely seen by someone so young. She must have been only 5 or 6 when this film was made (perhaps even younger) but fills the screen with her personality and rather than be the usual bratty obnoxious child that you would come to expect from Hollywood pictures she acts in a manner way beyond her years. Both older siblings Man-bok played by Eun Won-jae and Soojeong played by Young-nam Jang are equally as good and it just goes to prove that a thought provoking and compelling film featuring child actors can hold an audience's attention. The strong cast and excellent acting made this film as good as it was for me and I thoroughly enjoyed their performances.
==A Modern Day Fairy Tale==
Along with the flawless acting from the entire cast mention has to be made to the use of colour in this film which supports its fairy tale and dream like feel. The use of vibrant bright colours on the clothing and house decor are in stark contrast to the blues and greys of A Tale of Two Sisters and make this a visual feast to behold. The colours have a simple, childlike quality to them and the inclusion of the elaborate set designs featuring all manner of children's toys and games make this a joy to watch. You know on first glance that all is not right simply for the nervously cheerful Mom and Dad who are wearing clothes that are too bright and for the huge decorated Christmas tree decorated with baubles and bells. Children love Christmas right? And every day is Christmas Day in the "house of happy children", they eat cake for breakfast and never get told off by their parents - what else could a child wish for?
Visually the film is a delight with some downright surreal moments which only intensify the atmospheric feel of the film. The forest is dark and unwelcoming and the house in the middle of it all is like a beacon of light. Eun-Soo represents us, the viewer and it's down to him to find out what is really going on.
==The Heart of the Matter==
The film is both joyous to watch and ultimately heart breaking when you discover the secrets that the film is hiding. The ending 30 minutes manage to tie up all the loose ends and provide answers to the questions that have been asked throughout the films running time and whilst some moments are uncomfortable to watch the film does not resort to out and out horror to tell its tale. Loosely based on the children's fairy tale of the same name you discover the shocking truth at the heart of the film and can't help but be moved by the revelations. This caught me by surprise as I wasn't expecting the film to have the effect that it did have on me and whilst I won't reveal anything that could be considered a spoiler all I will say is to be prepared to be knocked for six.
==Would I Recommend this film?==
Absolutely yes. If you have seen a Tale of Two Sisters or are a fan of Asian/ South Korean films then this is definitely for you. This doesn't have the same supernatural elements or is as twisting as ATOTS but is certainly comparable in terms of the quality of the acting and the storyline itself. At 117 minutes you are plunged into the story from the start and so long as you give the film your attention the payoff at the end is well worth your commitment. Being a South Korean film the dialogue is Korean and the film features English subtitles which I know will put some people off, however I can honestly say that once I was hooked into the story I didn't notice the language barrier and I found the subtitles easy to follow without them being distracting.
As a rule I don't usually watch the extras on DVDs but there is a fascinating 53 minute 'Making of' documentary included on the disc which is well worth watching. An interview with the special effects director plus a teaser trailer for the film are also included and for the price the DVD currently retails at you certainly get great value for money.
==Availability and Rating==
Hansel and Gretel is available to buy online from Amazon brand new for £5.00 and is instore at HMV for around the same price. I would most certainly recommend its purchase and from me would award a perfect 5 star rating for this film. It provided far more than I bargained for and I absolutely loved it "A modern Day Fairy Tale for Adults" is a superb description for this film and if you give it a go it may surprise you too.
Thanks for reading my review, please note that this review originally appeared on ciao under my username.
Looking through the world cinema section in HMV I spotted this DVD. The cover is pretty eye catching and I was got interesting reading the back as I like films based on fairy tales and i am rarely let down by Korean Cinema. I think this was about £6 from HMV and is just over £5 on Amazon, so a bargain either way.
This isn't a retelling of Hansel and Gretel but it does take a lot of ideas and themes from the original story. Eun Soo, a salesman, driving down the motorway on the phone to his pregnant wife when his car crashes. He wakes up at night in the forest night to the road but can't find his way back. He is found by a little girl, Young Hee, who takes him back to her house in the middle of the woods. She lives with her older brother, Man Bok and younger sister, Jung Soon and their mum and dad in a creepily perfect house where they eat cake for breakfast and have weird pictures of rabbits all over the walls. Eun Soo is unable to call for help as his mobile battery dies, and the house has no phone. So he tries to walk back to the road the next day but just ends up back at the house that night. He wakes up to find a note from the parents to say that they have had to go into town for business so could he look after the children until they get back. Still, with he help of a map drawn by Man Bok, he tries to leave again, but still just ends up back to the house.
After some exploring Eun Soo finds the children's mother hiding in the attack and she tells him he's not their real mother. Her car has also crashed and the children wouldn't let them leave. Another couple soon arrive who don't mind staying so much. But the children don't like the wife as she isn't very nice to them, so she soon disappears. Eun Soo is desperate to get back to his pregnant wife and doesn't know what to do. The house and children start to get pretty creepy and sinister and Eun Soo loses control over what is happening and discovers the children have more power than he could imagine.
This isn't the best Asian horror I've seen but it is pretty good. For just £5 it's certainly worth watching. The story starts off quite slow and normal and gets gradually creepier. The biggest part of the Hansel and Gretel story that this film has taken on is how the witch lured them into the house and then tried to cook them, with the children putting her into the oven instead. The children had previously been in a orphanage but were terribly mistreated, they escape by putting their carer in an oven, and then, mistrusting adults, feel the need to punish them whenever they let them down. The scenes from the orphanage are pretty horrific and hard to watch. They don't really go with the rest of the film but they do give you an insight as to why the children are in the position they're in, which is good.
The film as a whole does have a pretty creepy feel and it is quite sinister at times. Man Boks character is quite chilling but the youngest child, Jung Soon is so cute, she makes the film a bit light-hearted throughout. Eun Soo holds the story together and is pretty likeable making you want a happy ending. The things the kids do make them kind of hard to like, but you can't help feeling sorry for them and liking them, especially Jung Soon. The film also has some quite creative ways of disposing of the adults the children get bored of, the effects are certainly not Hollywood standard, but they work.
I think if the story moved a bit fast the film would be more exciting, and it does like any really scary bits. I think it's more chilling than scary but that's not a bad thing. I doubt it'll ever be a massive Asian horror like The Ring, or even like The Host, but it's still good. If you like world cinema, creepy films, or just want something a bit different, give this a go. It's like a modern day Brothers Grimm tale for adults, definitely my kind of thing.