SPIDER FOREST (a.k.a. Geomi Sup, 2004) is a South Korean film that relatively took in a fair box-office take. Fortunately, from what I've gathered, the film did take in a surmountable amount in dvd sales. Directed by Il Gon-Song, "Spider Forest" is equal parts mystery, detective thriller and the supernatural. It also stars one of my favorite South Korean actresses; Jung Suh (Sometimes known as Seo Jeong), renowned for her role in Kim Ki-Duk's "The Isle", "Yellow Flower" and "Green Chair". This film is geared towards those who can appreciate good cinema, with a methodical approach that sidesteps the basic style of linear storytelling. The film has a Category III rating in Asia, which equals to NC-17 in the U.S.
Deep in the forest, a man and a woman have been brutally attacked in a cabin and left to die. Arriving too late, Kang (Gam Woo-Sung) chases the killer only to be hit by a speeding car. Barely surviving the surgery, he now finds himself a prime suspect in the double murder case. While a police investigation sets out to confirm his story, he cannot shake the feeling that there are strange gaps in his memory regarding the night in question and the killer's identity. As he tries to piece together the fragments of a bizarre dream, He crosses paths with a very beautiful and enigmatic woman named Su-jin (Jung Suh). Kang slowly begins to realize that his own nightmares may hold the key to the truth.
Not surprising that "Spider Forest" may alienate viewers used to the basic plot and twists, the film jumps around in timeline from Kang's relationship with his wife, to his investigation, to his conversations with Su-jin. What is truly amazing with the screenplay is that the film really encourages the viewer to work and take in the hidden, subtle clues and details dispersed throughout. It will probably make some folks say "I give up, the heck with this" but those who pay attention will be rewarded with a very awesome experience. The proceedings are almost "dream-like" in its execution and contains some smaller tales as well; such as "The legend of Spider Forest" which tells of restless and unloved souls who hide in this forest until they are remembered and loved again. No, the film is not about huge spiders spewing webs and devouring anyone in its path. I cannot spoil the fun for you, you will have to find out the relevance of its title for yourself.
While the killer's identity may be seen halfway through the film, and experienced viewers (like me) will no doubt figure out the mystery. What really grabbed me is the "slow reveal" that gives you tiny bits of information that lets you go by in every waking moment. "Spider Forest" isn't too much of detective work but a mystery saga that doesn't rely on the usual gruesome crap to keep you on your toes. Don't get me wrong, there is blood and gore, and for a Korean film, it does have quite a lot of sex scenes and nudity to awaken male hormones. Kang's a very likeable guy and viewers will no doubt form an attachment to him, it was very interesting to see him doubt himself and his memory of the said evening. The film's psychological aspect gives a possible scenario after possible conclusion after conclusion that causes us to argue the fact that the proceedings may be nothing more than fiction. Very nice touches, reminiscent of films like "Memento" and "Next Door".
The outstanding cinematography and visuals are what carried the film aside from its unorthodox style. There are some subtle symbols to be interpreted by the viewer (as to why Kang's wife plays mime), hidden secrets that effectively adhere to a whole. The wonderful shots of the countryside, that shifts to the impression that it may be a dream, then it grabs you by the throat with a touch of violent behavior; "sickle stabbing", anyone? The haunting music, the terrific performances by Gam Woo-Sung and the awesomely beautiful Jung Suh, all complement this film to climactic questions. The supporting cast isn't bad, either. Particularly, Kang's girlfriend (I lost her name), she exudes a certain intimidating sexiness to her character that rivals Jung Suh's erotic charisma. (Too bad, this is one film that you won't see Jung Suh in her Birthday suit)
There are a lot of questions that may arise from this film. The director somewhat relies on the film's climax to give us an idea that two separate issues did happen, is it a dream? Is it a parallel to a reality? Some viewers will be frustrated unless they paid extra attention to its entirety. It may leave some viewers scratching their heads and a bit depressed for Kang's situation.
True, South Korea may still be developing in the horror genre, and sadly, "Spider Forest" has been billed as being one. To close, the film is truly enthralling and an effective "Noirish" psychological thriller for the esoteric few (I've been using this term a lot lately) that appreciates methodical cinema. Equal parts murder mystery and the mind-boggling, it succeeds in all the areas that most psychological thrillers aspires to be but failed. It kicks the heck out of MOST Hollywood thrillers!
Highly Recommended! [4+ Stars]
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