“A Bloody Aria” is the latest film from Korean director Won Shin Yeon, who recently made his debut with the painfully earnest haunted thatch ghost film “The Wig”. His sophomore effort is a different prospect entirely, being a stripped down, brutal slice of tension, shot through with a nasty streak of dark humour and given a distinctly Korean line in social commentary. Although the director’s second film, “A Bloody Aria” had actually been in planning for some time, with the script having generated considerable industry interest after winning an important competition.
The film begins with a music professor called Park Young-sun, taking In Jeong (Cha Ye-ryeon, also in “Voice”), a young female student for a ride in the country in his fine new Mercedes. Unfortunately, while showing off, the foolish man incurs the wrath of a traffic policeman, an incident which results in the couple taking shelter on a remote river beach. After rejecting the sleazy Park’s advances, In-jeong flees into the woods, leaving him alone, at least until an odd, and increasingly threatening bunch of men turn up (including actor Han Suk Kyu, star of “Shiri”, here playing a villain for the first time), who may or may not have killed the poor girl.
Although “A Bloody Aria” has been described as being a Korean take on “Deliverance”, it is actually closer to the French “Calvaire” (also known as “The Ordeal”) in that it is edgy, unpredictable, and at times thoroughly weird. Director Won takes a refreshingly different approach to what could have been a standard tale of city folks menaced by crazy bumpkins, mainly in that he serves up an off-key set of characters, none of whom really fit into the traditional roles viewers are used to. The film does not feature an obvious protagonist, or even an anti-hero, and although some of the characters are more vicious than others, it gradually becomes clear that all are victims in one way or another. Despite this, the characters are well drawn, and the viewer learns about them through a series of revelations which unfold in a surprising, though believable manner.
None of the relationships in the film are straightforward, with some of them emerging as being very twisted, and through this, Won ventures into some fairly complex moral territory, and explores the effects of institutions such as the army. The film is chiefly concerned with themes of bullying, which it actually deals with in quite a subtle manner and on several levels, dealing with both the aggressors and victims in a fluid way which eschews stereotyping or easy answers. The lines between right and wrong are not so much blurred as thrown out of the window, as the characters gradually become more and more animalistic, yet at the same time, somehow more human, giving the proceedings an almost tragic feel.
The film is tense throughout, with Won tightening the screws almost from the first frame. The plot progresses quite cleverly, and with a fiendish sense of inevitability, with the level of brutality increasing almost as an outlet for the characters’ psychological torment. Although never bloody or explicit, the film is sadistic, intense and visceral, especially towards the end, and there is an air of threat throughout, with the viewer constantly expecting outbursts of violence.
Through all of this, Won maintains a bleak sense of humour, and “A Bloody Aria” is frequently very funny. Many of these laughs come either at the expense of the would-be lothario and distinctly unheroic professor, or at the sheer strangeness of the events. Aside from a few moments of violent slapstick, most of the laughs are decidedly low-key, and are well played against the ever growing tension rather than being allowed to dominate.
At times the film does feel rather like a play, given its small cast of characters and limited locations, though this certainly works in its favour, as the minimalist approach allows the director to focus in truly discomforting fashion, never giving the viewer a moment of respite from the increasingly unpleasant events. As such, “A Bloody Aria” stands as a brave, powerful and unconventional film which shocks and thrills, as well as making a genuine attempt to delve into the minds of its characters, and which certainly marks Won as a talent to watch.
Shin-yeon Won (director) / Shin-yeon Won (screenplay)
CAST: Ye-ryeon Cha …. In-jeong
Suk-kyu Han …. Moon-jae
Kyeong-ho Jeong …. Hong-bae
Shi-hoo Kim …. Hyun-jae
Mun-shik Lee …. Bong-yeon
Dal-su Oh …. Oh-geun
Hyeong-tak Shim …. Won-ryong