“Arang” is the first of the 2006 wave of Korean Summer horror blockbusters to be released on DVD. The film marks the debut of director Ahn Sang Hoon, who apparently spent several years preparing the production, which previously went under the title of “Line”. The film begins in less than promising fashion, with a couple of teenage girls relating a suspiciously familiar ghost story. Thankfully, this turns out to be a shamelessly unrelated cheap scare prologue and the plot begins proper as a young man dies horribly after being sent an email with a link to a mysterious website.
Assigned to the case is veteran policewoman So Young (actress Song Yoon Ah, also in the likes of “Hotelier” and “Lost in Love”) along with her rookie partner Hyun Gi (Lee Dong Wook in his film debut), and the two soon have their hands full after another man dies in similar fashion. A little detective work reveals that the two victims were both connected to the past murder of a young man near a rural salt house, whose girlfriend disappeared soon after his death. Although the protagonists assume, quite reasonably all things considered, that the missing girl’s vengeful ghost may be responsible for the killings, there is far more to the story than meets the eye.
“Arang” benefits mainly from a strong central mystery, which although based around the time-honoured set up of a past crime having been covered up, actually offers a few surprises, making “Arang” one of the few genre films which includes a final twist that actually works, not to mention taking things into interesting, though bleak moral territory. The fact that the main characters are detectives, rather than the usual journalists or tenuously connected onlookers, grounds their investigation somewhat, in that it progresses through the discovery of forensic evidence and the like rather than obscure clues received in visions. This having been said, So Young’s intuition does at times come howling out of leftfield, for example when she suddenly decides to dig up and examine a dead dog, or when she randomly seizes upon a magazine picture to suggest where a suspect may be hiding.
The film as a whole functions more as a supernaturally-themed murder mystery than a tale of ghostly revenge, and as such it is more character driven than other similar efforts. Director Ahn does make an effort to flesh out the two protagonists and an interesting relationship builds between them, though thankfully one which never lurches into unwelcome romance. Since this is a Korean film, there is unsurprisingly a fair amount of doom and gloom, with plenty of tragic secrets lurking in the shadows and distinct feelings of guilt and regret in the air throughout. As such, the film does make for quite emotional viewing, albeit depressingly so, although it does end with some presumably unintentional laughs thanks to a tacked on epilogue and a pointless series of title cards which relate a Korean folk tale, to which the preceding film bears only the faintest of similarities.
Luckily, Ahn never lets all of this angst get in the way of the plot, and the film is well paced, with plenty in the way of supernatural action. Needless to say, the majority of scare scenes are hopelessly derivative, with just about every clich’ of the modern Asian ghost genre rearing its head, including half seen figures, ghosts lurking in video cameras, haunted websites and countless shots of long black hair appearing in unlikely places. Ahn even goes so far as to include an elevator scene lifted from “The Eye”, and several sequences of supposedly creepy black water dripping from the ghost, although these do unfortunately seem to suggest that she has a terrible problem with incontinence more than anything else.
Although almost all of “Arang’s” attempts at frightening the audience have been seen before, and are far too familiar to ever be frightening, Ahn’s lively direction means that “Arang” is highly entertaining, and at just over an hour and a half, never outstays its welcome. Buoyed by a genuinely engaging set of characters and a well thought out plot, it certainly stands above most similar efforts, and should definitely be enjoyed either by fans of the form, or those few remaining viewers who are still relatively unfamiliar with the antics of the long haired female ghost.
Sang-hoon Ahn (director) / Sang-hoon Ahn, Seon-ju Jeong, Jeong-seob Lee, Yun-kyung Sin (screenplay)
CAST: So-yeong Choo
Dong-Wook Lee …. Hyun-ki
Jong-su Lee …. Dong-min
Yun-ah Song …. So-young