The modern Asian ghost bandwagon rolls ever onward, with film makers reluctant to abandon the cinematic cash cow of the long haired female spectre. “Cinderella” is one of the most recent examples of the genre, the second feature from Korean director Bong Man Dae, marking somewhat of a departure from his debut, the erotic drama “Sweet Sex and Love”, and from his previous career in soft porn. Of course, the horror genre is often enough a convenient stepping stone for directors looking to break into more serious film making, and Bong clearly shows his ambitions here, using the basic formula as a skeleton upon which to hang a fairly complex and psychologically twisted little story. As a result, whilst not quite managing to cast off the shackles of over-familiarity, “Cinderella” at least represents a certain refinement of form and is one of the better recent examples of its type.
The film begins very much in expected fashion, with a creepy flashback suicide, complete with squeaking music box soundtrack, before switching to the all important big opening scare scene which in this case involves a poor girl undergoing plastic surgery being menaced by none other than our old friend, the long haired female ghost. The plot itself focuses on Hyeon Su (Shin Se Kyung, also in “My Sweet Bride”), a beautiful 17 year old student who seems to be the only one of her friends not obsessed with getting plastic surgery done, preferring instead to spend hours on facial masks and other beauty treatments.
This may well be due to the fact that Hyeon’s mother Yoon Hee (played by Do Ji Won of “Ladies of the Palace” and “The Land”) is a top plastic surgeon, having operated on a number of Hyeon’s friends. Unfortunately, several of the girls start to experience sinister side effects, seeing visions of you know whom, and dying mysterious deaths, forcing Hyeon to face up to the fact that her mother is harbouring a dark secret.
The plot of “Cinderella” is for the first half pretty standard stuff, and moves along quite slowly, with Hyeon being strangely oblivious to her mother having more than a few screws loose. Thankfully, after the introduction of a major, though not entirely unexpected plot twist around the halfway mark, the pace picks up considerably, and Bong takes the film into some fairly interesting and crazy territory, gradually unveiling what is actually quite a sick and disturbing back story.
Although many of these developments never really make much sense, especially after a needlessly ambiguous climax, they certainly make for engaging viewing. And though not a patch upon “A Tale of Two Sisters”, on which much of the film is obviously modelled, “Cinderella” has a certain hysterical charm which lifts it above the standard teen chiller threatened by the duller opening act.
Bong’s direction is reasonably solid, with a good, disorientating insertion of unannounced flashbacks and surreal visions that help to keep the viewer guessing and make for a few startling moments. Unfortunately, these are to an extent undermined by the film’s rather choppy editing, which on several occasions seems to cut scenes short in a decidedly rude manner. Although most of the scares are by the numbers, there are a few flashes of innovation, and by packing in the sudden jumps and shocks, Bong manages to keep things moving along at a brisk pace, especially during the latter stages. He also has the good sense to throw in a few bloody scenes, with some squirm inducing surgical related injuries and scalpel slashing.
The film is quite obviously aimed at teen viewers, with countless attempts at zeitgeist and the use of the topical plastic surgery issue, though “Cinderella” is on the whole entertaining enough to go down well with genre fans in general, offering up enough supernatural action and psycho soap opera shenanigans to distract from its inherent lack of originality.
Man-dae Bong (director) / Kwang-soo Son (screenplay)
CAST: Ah-yung Ahn, Gyu-ryun Ahn, So-min Jeon, Se-Kyeong Shin, Ji-Won To, Da-in Yu