With webcomics being all the rage in Korea, it was only a matter of time before someone had the bright idea of using them for a horror film gimmick – and so, here we have “Killer Toon”, which follows a young, attractive artist whose work starts foretelling gruesome murders. The film was directed by Kim Yong Kyun, known for his visual flair, who most recently helmed “The Sword with no Name”, and who worked in the genre before on the generally well-regarded “The Red Shoes”. Despite some fairly average reviews, “Killer Toon” opened to big business at the domestic box office during the traditional Korean summer horror season, being the first shocker to break the one million ticket barrier since “Death Bell” back in 2008.
Taking a break from romantic comedies like her recent (and highly enjoyable) “How to Use Guys with Secret Tips” is actress Lee Si Young, playing webcomic artist Ji Yoon, who’s made a highly successful career out of drawing tales of murder and ghostly revenge. After people start to turn up dead in strange circumstances that match those in her latest artwork, it starts to look as if her stories have the power to predict, and possibly cause, death. Despite the cases being ruled bizarre suicides, detective Lee Ki Cheol (Uhm Ki Joon, “Man of Vendetta”) starts to investigate, and slowly draws closer to the sinister secret behind Ji Yoon’s comics and success.
“Killer Toon” has a fun and promising premise, and certainly starts off strongly, with a great opening sequence in which Ji Yoon’s editor meets a strange and creepy demise. The film is definitely at its best during its horror sequences, Kim Yong Kyun showing the same fine mix of ominous atmospherics and effective jump scares as he did in “The Red Shoes”, working in some enjoyably macabre and slickly handled set pieces. On this score, the film also benefits from some reasonably gory moments, and though it’s never particularly nasty and pulls many of its punches, it definitely has more of a visceral kick than most other recent K-horrors.
As expected, Kim brings his considerable visual talents to the table, and the film really looks great, with some excellent use of light and shadows, a vaguely Gothic use of colour, and some suitably foreboding locations. Kim makes the most of the webcomic premise, with some frequent and fun use of ghoulish comic art, and this helps to make the film stand out and to give it an eerie feel throughout.
The film isn’t quite so successful when it comes to the plot, and after its intriguing first act falls back on the usual themes of revenge and guilt, with the same old grudges and dark secrets taking centre stage. While the characters and their backstories are interesting enough, and while Lee Si Young is appealing and perfectly acceptable in the lead role, there’s nothing new here, and nothing that really justifies the bloated middle section in which the film dives into clichéd melodrama. Still, though a bit disappointing, this is very much the way of things with modern commercial Korean horror, and the film does get back into the swing of things for the final act, building towards a spirited and pleasingly offbeat conclusion.
Despite its familiarity, “Killer Toon” is a well-executed and entertaining slice of Korean horror, and one of the better examples of its type of late. Kim Yong Kyun is a talented helmer, and boosts the film considerably with some impressive visuals, enough so to make up for some of its weakness in other areas.
Yong-gyun Kim (director) / Hoo-Kyoung Lee, Sang-hak Lee(screenplay)
CAST: Hyeon-woo Kim … Yeong-soo
Si-young Lee … Ji-yoon
Ki-joon Uhm … Lee Gi-cheol