There have been many bits of Asian Horror and most of them have the stereotypical element of the long-haired white-faced vengeful ghost. Of course, it is quite refreshing to find one without the overused element of the "Yurei" (which is a powerful part of Japanese lore). "Hansel and Gretel" (2007) is a film by Pil-Sung Yim and masquerades as a horror film but feels more like a suspense surreal thriller instead. The film has some very impressive visuals, and strong production values--and instead of utilizing a dark, ominous atmosphere, it displays colorful cinematography that proves as creepy as any other dark, bluish atmosphere.
When Eun-soo Lee (Jeong-myeong Cheon) has a car accident (which is why talking on the cell phone while driving is outlawed in California), he regains consciousness within a forest with a 12-year old girl named Yeong-Hee (Eun-kyeong Shim) who leads them to their house in the middle of the woods. Once there, he meets the parents, Yeong-Hee's older brother Man-Bok (Won-jae Eun) and cute younger sister (played by Ji-hui Jin), he is invited to stay the night. Come morning, Eun-soo is served sweets for breakfast which was quite odd. Eun-soo also finds that he is unable to find his way out of the forest by himself and decides to impose upon the kindly family once again to stay one more day. The following day, he finds the children crying and that the parents have left on an urgent matter and asks Eun-soo to watch over the kids. Eun-soo soon realizes that these are not your normal children and that there have been other guests in their home, and none of them ever found a way out of the forest.
The film has very high production values and has superb visuals. "Hansel and Gretel" is quite unique when we think about all the overused elements in Korean horror. The atmosphere and feel seems to have been inspired by a fairy tale and the way the plot unfolds is quite similar to a fable. I would say that the film's main visual style in regards to color is its "storybook" appeal that is both creepy and well, a little terrifying. I really thought the strong visuals carried most of the film's burden, and while the movie's main premise isn't entirely original (one lost and cannot leave-premise), it is still a fresh approach to Asian horror.
The performances of the cast led by Jeong-myeong Cheon (who plays Eun-Soo) is decent but a little uneven; the strong performance by Hie-Sun Park (plays Deacon Byeon) is the only adult performance truly worth noting because it stands out. Cheon seemed a decent actor but all the emotions he showed were too stereotypical for his character. Won-jae Eun and Eun-keong Shim are the older siblings and they are the balance of anger and natural charm. Man-Bok is genuinely mysterious and you can tell he is full of fury while Yeong-Hee is the young girl who serves as the film's most interesting character. The youngest child, Jung-Soon (played by Ji-hui Jin) is the living combination of raw creepiness and cuteness--she is spooky but at the same time so adorable and cuddly.
The script by Kim Min-sook is rather uneven and leaves several factors unexplored. The plot itself isn't really original since its backgrounds regarding child abuse and orphans is a little predictable. The film's premise of an alternate world wasn't very defined as to its relationships with the forest, the past and even the "real" world. The film does lift some ideas from "Peter Pan" and the colorful style of a children's storybook does give it a nice feel that is surrounded by an adult subject matter. However, if the plot had established the needed groundwork for the house, the forest and the real world (in regards to Deacon Byeon) then the hidden secret in the film's final act would have proved more convincing and highly credible. The supposed disturbing secret seemed like a throw-away detail designed to shock and generate sympathy.
Overall, "Hansel and Gretel" does do a lot more things right than wrong. I loved the colorful atmosphere, the beautiful cinematography, the great performances of the children and the wholly different approach to a storybook wrapped around in a dark premise is enjoyable. Some elements of the film did lack credibility and felt like a cheap shot to surprise the viewer, the failure to fully develop the back story hampered the film and made the "secret" a little underwhelming. Pil-yung Yim's "Hansel and Gretel" had all the necessary tools to become a great horror thriller but unfortunately, it just ends up being good. Still, it is worth a watch.
Recommended! [3 ½ Stars]
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