Face (2004) Movie Review

Dark Hair Ghost Stories from Asia are a dime a dozen nowadays. If you threw a pebble at the continent, you’d probably hit 10 films in the genre on the first thud. Really, it’s a bit disconcerting how generic the film industries in Asia have become in the seven years since the break-through hit “Ringu”. But then again, you really can’t blame them for the sudden drop in quality genre films; it’s a matter of too much too fast, I think. With the Western world embracing all things Asian and cinematic, it’s no surprise that the Korean film industry has been forced to crank out generic films like “Face” just to meet all the demand.

Needless to say, don’t expect anything new or even the least bit original with the Korean horror film “Face”. The movie stars Shin Hyun Jun (of “Blue” and “Bichunmoo” fame) as Hyun-min, a widower who works reconstructing faces from skulls. He’s good at it, too; so good, in fact, that when his ill daughter relapses after her experimental heart transplant surgery, Hyun-min’s boss refuses to accept his resignation, telling him instead to take his work home with him. But Hyun-min has more on his mind than a series of unexplained serial killings where the bodies were literally melted, leaving only the bones to mark their passing.

Things take a turn for the supernatural when a female ghost — complete with the usual long, straight dark hair and an ability to stand perfectly still in the background, having appeared out of thin air via creative camera angles — begins haunting Hyun-min and his daughter. Soon, Hyun-min is lured back into the hunt; he finds himself working alongside Sun-young (Song Yoon Ah), his unwanted and unasked for assistant. Predictably, the two starts to grow close, even as the hauntings start to get more intense, and soon Hyun-min is seeing dead women everywhere. Can he solve the hauntings before he and his daughter succumb?

As alluded to in my opening remarks, there’s little about “Face” that anyone even remotely familiar with Asian horror films will find original. You’ve seen it all before, and done better, in movies like “Phone” and “Into the Mirror”, not to mention the 200 other Korean horror movies involving a female ghost with long dark hair. To wit: It’s old hat. And in fact it’s almost shocking just how unoriginal “Face” is. You’d expect filmmaker Sang-Gon Yoo to at least try, but the guy doesn’t even bother.

Although “Face” is so far from being original that one would be justified in begrudging its very existence, at least it was short. Yes, it’s true. For once, a Korean horror film actually lasted less than two hours! I’m just as shocked as you are, my friends. So in that respect, although the film is grossly familiar and barely registers as a “horror” movie, at least it flew right by, taking as little of my time as possible. At just 80 minutes, I suppose one can’t really be that mad at it.

As for the performances, Shin Hyun Jun is his usual somber and serious self, which the actor always does well. Song Yoon Ah is a tad annoying in the beginning, but does eventually grow on you, as her character also does on Hyun-min. When we first see Sun-young, she’s knocking on Hyun-min’s door with the skull that he didn’t want to work on; after asking for a glass of water, she skidaddles, having left the skull behind. Later, she has the nerve to show up and ask how it’s all going. Now that’s gumption for ya.

Another point of note is that “Face” doesn’t have the slick visuals one has become accustomed to in a Korean horror film. Even in something as tedious as “The Uninvited” or as uninspired as “Unborn But Forgotten”, the camerawork in a South Korean film has always been exceptional. With “Face”, Sang-Gon Yoo has elected to shoot much of the film at night, and he’s employing a grittier vibe than one is used to seeing in a Korean film. Of course the fact that “Face” doesn’t look nearly as good as its brethrens doesn’t exactly give it brownie points; if anything, it’s just another negative for a movie already working with very little advantages.

Watch “Face” is you’ve never seen an Asian horror film in your life. But if you’ve seen just one, or even the American remake of “Ring” for that matter, there’s nothing here to get excited about. It’s passable entertainment, even if it’s derivative to the core.

Been there, done that, don’t want the T-shirt.

Sang-Gon Yoo (director) / Hie-jae Kim, Cheol-hie Park, Seong-min Park, Sang-Gon Yoo (screenplay)
CAST: Song Yoon Ah …. Sun-young
Shin Hyun Jun …. Hyun-min

Buy Face on DVD