(WORDPRESS DELETED THE 49 DAYS SECTION OF MY POST AND NOW I HAVE TO REWRITE THE WHOLE THING FTS)
A while ago I did a post on this HK horror film called Rigor Mortis (link), in which I mentioned that there was a period of time in my life where horror films were pretty much my thing. I was watching a whole bunch of them before I was introduced to this movie miracle called The Godfather where I learnt that movies were so much more than just getting the crap scared out of you. Still, when writing a blog about old dramas and Oscar films, I do sometimes feel that I need a break from all that emotionally intense, heavily dramatic material. And by that, I mean that I’ve been visiting some no-brainer, purely stupid and fun movies/tv dramas just to give my brain a break. Of course, pretentious people would say that these movies are not worthy of their “appreciation”, but I do believe that watching brainless films are a major part of the movie viewing experience as well (well, mainly the fun part)!
So without further ado, allow me to introduce to you some of the nonsense I’ve been treating my brain to:
1) Oculus (2014)
I’m not lying when I say that I’ve become quite immune to horror movies nowadays. Ok fine, I will jump at the jump scares (EVEN when I know it’s coming dammit), and some of the suspenseful scenes do make my heart beat faster, but when the whole thing ends they don’t leave me sleepless at night or afraid of visiting the washroom by myself. By now, I feel like I’m beginning to see through all the shtick that horror film-makers (not just US horror films, but Asian ones as well) are trying to over exploit in their movies – possessing every goddamn object possible (mirrors, shoes, wigs, scissors, mannequins, cellos, dolls, pianos), long hair ghouls (“Yurei”) contorting their body into every possible angle that puts the greatest contortionist to shame, an explosion of blood, gore, maggots, goo and slime, the typical “someone walking behind you” trick blablabla… I’m sorry, but this inherent awareness on my part that all this is nothing more than clear manipulation on the director’s part to gross me out and make me scream really makes me roll my eyes at such scares, especially if they are poorly executed. Sure, it scares me while I’m in the moment, but beyond that it doesn’t last. It’s like while I’m in a haunted house – the fact that I’m aware the chainsaw guy chasing me down the alley is a paid actor results in the whole experience being nothing more than cheap thrills.
It also doesn’t help that most horror films suffer from absymal writing – the stories are often lacking in credibility and convoluted, making the whole thing silly instead of frightening. I mean the whole thing about photos in Sinister (Oscar-nominee Ethan Hawke, why!?!?) was such a lame attempt at making me afraid of pictures, while Mama’s (Oscar-nominee Jessica Chastain, why!?!?) sentimental ending involving the reunification of mama ghost and baby was, well, unsatisfying. To me anyway. They often try to blend some emotional moments into the story, but the whole thing comes off as distracting, contrived and awkward. Bleahz.
Still, the trailer for Oculus had my interest piqued. What I gathered from it was that it was still going to be another average, run-off-your-mill horror film involving a demonic mirror (Oooo, original!), but at the same time I could see that it was going to play the psychological horror card instead of relying on cheap scares. And boy, I was impressed! The story involves a pair of siblings reunited after the lasser glass, the demonic mirror in question, caused the death of their parents ten years ago. The brother was incriminated and sent to a psychiatric faculty for treatment, while the sister spent her past 10 years waiting for his release so that they can fulfil their “promise” on wanting to destroy the damn thing. This to me was one of the flaws of the writing; Ok, I get that they are psychologically scarred but why would you want to mess around with a supernatural force that destroyed your family 10 years ago? Move on! Did they really think that they had a chance in destroying it? And also, why didn’t they just attempt using the “emergency” plan right from the start, which is to smash the mirror with an anchor connected to a switch? And in the first place, what made them think that they could smash the mirror when they have tried to in the first place (Granted, they used golf clubs when they were young but I don’t think using a heavier object was going to help)?
Still, ignoring all these tiny loopholes, I actually found myself appreciating Oculus much more than some of the acclaimed horror films today (The Conjuring!?). What I appreciated about it was its very smart storytelling: they made it clear from the start that the demonic mirror was able to manipulate its victims into hearing and seeing what it wants them to. That way, they were able to blend two storylines together: what was happening now, and what happened ten years ago. The director uses what happened ten years ago to not only mess around with the heads of the two main characters, but to also explain to the viewer what really happened then. I thought that was a smart move, as it gave the movie the “mindfuck” element that was needed, but at the same time I thought it was quite well-handled as it never became too complicated or confusing to follow.
As mentioned, the film attempts to rely more on the horror elements rather than cheap scares. Naturally, there are jump scares as usual (yes, yes I jumped) but they weren’t that bad as compared to others. I thought the ghouls were actually pretty creepy: I liked how they weren’t doing weird stuff like vomiting blood and goo and cracking their bones, but just standing there and…smiling at you, with their glowing eyes. That was a nice touch. I love psychological horror in general, and over here it’s used effectively. Besides letting the ghouls smile at them as the characters run through the corridors in fear, there’s also that infamous apple/light bulb scene which was genuinely disturbing. And I like the famous scene in the trailer where the clothed “figures” were turning in the mirror’s reflection; spooky!
Oculus is no masterpiece, but I think it’s one of the better films of the genre to have come out lately. Of course, look away if you are expecting brain eating zombies and gore or Kayako crawling down the stair (Ju-on is on youtube), but I think it’s a nice attempt at psychological horror despite its flaws. 3.5/5.
2) 49 Days
*This is goddamn infuriating. I basically typed out the entire section of this part but for some reason the page refreshed on its own (NOT MY FAULT) and deleted it*
Basically, I was talking about my disdain for Korean family dramas but now I have to do it in a succinct manner as I no longer have the energy to go into the rant that I did the first time: My family loves them, I don’t. The writing is usually lazy, sloppy and incredibly cheesy, and they run over 100 unnecessary episodes, which makes them agonizing to sit through every dinner. From what I’ve seen (I’ll admit that I’m biased: haven’t see a lot of them) they are usually a manipulation of the following elements: a poor family, a rich family, swapped babies (betweeen the rich and poor), an impossible annoying protagonist (can be from the rich or poor family) with a heart purer than the purest of gold and will do anything right even if it’s none of his/her fracking business and will land him in even more trouble (Oh Ja Ryong), a vindictive antagonist (usually from the poor family, may or may not be a swapped baby) with a “woe-is-me” attitude who goes all out to attack the protagonist because “god is so unfair to me blablabla STFU”. Naturally, you get company politics that I couldn’t care less about, usually involving the bad guy trying to take over the good guy’s company while stealing their partner at the same time. To me, there’s this “I’ve seen this too many times” feeling that haunts me every time they show, and they are nothing more than tiresome. And talk about lazy naming of shows: Moon And Stars For You, Twinkle Twinkle, Oh Ja Ryong Is Coming! Add in a grating opening theme song while at it, and the whole thing just collapses in my eyes.
I know people tend to praise the acting, and I’m sure Korea has fantastic actors (the ones I know are those in the art-house films, like Choi Min Sik and Song Kang Ho), but over here it’s just overwrought and plain annoying. When they’re sad, they CRY, they WAIL, the TEARS FLOW OUT, they SCREAM, they BANG THEIR FISTS on the ground, they SHAKE THEIR HANDS IN THE MOST DRAMATIC FASHION and basically they go through 500 degrees of hamtastic overacting to communicate that despair to you. Otherwise, they smile so widely and add in cute poses just to prove that they are meant to bring and spread positivity to the whole world…bleahz.
Still, 49 Days belongs to a different category altogether. With only 20 episodes, it’s clear that the show is catered towards younger audiences even though my entire family watched it. Actually, the show was released 3 years ago and my whole family has already watched it back then (except me), but now that it is playing on Channel U (lagging behind as usual), they are naturally watching it again because they loved the show then, and still do. And yes, I joined in this time.
Ok my opinion is biased: I only watched the last ten episodes, but that was enough for me because the show’s story line isn’t that hard to understand. The plot is
kinda very whacky: a rich, soon-to-marry girl Ji-Hyun gets into an accident and was taken “before her time is up”. She meets her “scheduler” cum guardian angel, a young hippie who gives her two options: a) Accept that she is taken too soon or b) goes on this 49 Days pilgrimage to find 3 people who love her and collect their tears so as to prove her life has value before time runs out (or face death), cause it’s like totally her fault that she was taken before her time? Naturally she chooses b and was loaned the body of this moping, despondent shell of a woman called Yi-Kyung who basically has no meaning in her life other than to spend her nights working and her days sleeping. Incidentally, this woman was the cause of the accident as she tried to commit suicide by letting a truck run over her. Anyway, as if things weren’t complicated enough, there were even rules in place: a) the tears musn’t come from family members cause heaven is one troublemaking bitch and b) our leading girl must never ever reveal her true identity or else she will DIE, although it’s okay if the living people somehow figures it out as long as she doesn’t acknowledge it and pretends she doesn’t know that they know. Of course, the chances of this happening is very low and is sooooo not going to happen, right?
So under the disguise of Yi-Kyung, Ji-Hyun goes begins her 49 Days journey while her real self remains in a vegetative state in the hospital, with a “very slim chance of waking up”. She uses Yi-Kyungs body in the day, and returns it to her at night without Yi-Kyung realising, of course. In the meantime, Ji-Hyun learns that she isn’t as popular as she is (take that, sunshine girl) and that her fiance was actually having an affair with her BEST friend and is plotting to…guess what!?!? TAKE OVER THE COMPANY! So what was originally a mission to collect 3 tears becomes a mission to save her company…under the disguise of this other woman.
I’ll just keep my review of the show short:
1) The cast is beautiful. Superficial reason? Yes, but there’s no denying that watching beautiful Koreans work their magic on screen makes the whole show a lot more tolerable.
2) The acting is not bad: No, I wouldn’t be throwing Emmys their way but it isn’t as bad as their family drama counterparts. The best in the cast would be Lee Yo-Won, who has to play a double role here as the “possessed” Yi-Kyung in the day and the catatonic Yi-Kyung at night. For the most part, she sells it and I did see 2 different characters, although the real Yi-Kyung is just boring and almost catatonic. It was meant to be like that, so I was okay. Bae Soo Bin plays Min-ho, the scheming fiance and yes, he was very good as well, using his character’s past to justify his actions (yeah yeah, another “woe-is-me” poor kid). Is this actor destined to play a villain? I just watched him play a cannibalistic plastic surgeon in Horror Stories (I’m not familiar with his work, don’t bash me). Anyway, the entire cast was good, but these 2 stood out for me.
1) Writing loses strength towards the end: In many ways. Yi-Kyung starts to become more and more “aware” of Ji-Hyun’s spiritual presence and towards the end they could even SPEAK to one another, although Yi-Kyung couldn’t see her. It was really…weird, the way Yi-Kyung was like “oh you can use my body for the next 10 days, cause my life has no meaning so just use my body as you will blablaba”. Also, the whole “it’s okay that the humans figure out who you are, as long as you don’t say so yourself” rule feels a bit weird, but I guess they needed a way for the living characters to figure out who she is (even though the chances of this happening are sooooooo slim, indeed). In many scenes, Han Kang (Ji-Hyun’s old classmate) speaks to Ji-Hyun (as Yi-Kyung) but because of that stupid “you musn’t reveal your identity rule”, they have to keep referring to Ji-Hyun in THIRD PERSON even though she’s actually there. Like for instance, when Han successfully persuaded Ji-Hyun’s dad to go for surgery, she had to say “Ji-Hyun would be grateful to you” as Yi-Kyung, even though by then Han Kang was already aware of what’s going on. Yes, the whole thing is as bizarre as it sounds. Haven’t they watched Heaven Can Wait (1978)?
The plot twist wasn’t very good, and to me it was just plain contrived. Major spoiler ahead, although Ji-Hyun collects her 3 tears, it turns out that she still couldn’t save herself as she was already destined to die not long after the accident. “Had this accident not happen, I would have committed suicide from the pain of knowing that my fiance cheated on me and robbed my company. So I’m glad that I used the 49 Days to set things right,” she said sadly after she woke up form her coma (her scheduler dropped the bomb on her not long after she woke up). This part was fine for me (seriously) until the next major plot twist ahead, which was that Yi-Kyung was apparently Ji-Hyun’s long lost sister. God.
2) Waaaay too many freaking crying scenes towards the end: If you are familiar with Korean dramas, you know that they love making their actors cry. To me, it’s very clear that each crying scene is an “on cue” thing rather than a truthful moment, but for the most part it worked as an emotional scene. Until the end: GOODNESS! They cry and they cry and they cry over the betrayal, heartbreak, loss, death blablabla and it was damn near to driving me nuts. It wasn’t as overwrought as their soaps, but it was such an obvious manipulation on the director’s part.
Okok, I shall end this very long post here. 49 Days was actually quite a watchable K-drama that I’m not gonna deny I enjoyed despite the wonky ending and weird scenes here and there. I wouldn’t hesitate in giving it a B+, and that’s generous from someone who usually don’t watch them. Meanwhile, I shall get started on A Clockwork Orange (1971) soon.