“One Day Suddenly” is a collection of four horror films put together and produced by top Korean genre director Ahn Byung Ki, the man who was himself responsible for terrifying audiences with the blockbuster hits “Phone”, “Bunshinsaba” and the recent “APT”. The four films are all based upon works by Yoo Il Han, and were directed by newcomers who were no doubt selected for their enthusiasm for the genre, something which Ahn has been complaining about being lacking in Korean cinema of late. Although the prospect of such a package, coming at a time when the form has reached a distinct stagnation in Korea may not sound too appealing, “One Day Suddenly” does offer a set of films from different sub-genres, only one of which is a straightforward tale of long haired female ghost inspired vengeance. Thankfully, as well as being vaguely original, the four films are all above average and are certainly comparable to many other recent efforts, with two being better than the majority of the last crop of big budget Korean horror releases.
February 29 (2006)
The first film is Jung Jong Hoon’s “February 29”, a tale told in flashback by a patient in a mental asylum about a late night highway tollbooth worker called Ji Yeon, who is one night passed a ticket covered in blood by a mysterious driver. After she learns that someone was killed at another booth earlier that night, she comes to believe that a death curse connected to the date February 29th may in fact be true, and that the murderous ghost of a female prisoner killed in a bus crash some years back may be haunting the roads. As she investigates further, she is beset by strange events and visions, leading to the expected shocking revelations.
“February 29” is probably the weakest of the four films due to its slow pace and confused plotting, though it manages to earn a passing grade thanks to an eerie atmosphere and a few decent scare scenes. The nighttime tollbooth scenes are the best parts, with Jung making good use of the creepy, isolated setting and working in some effectively surreal touches to put the viewer in the protagonist’s shoes.
Unfortunately, as with many other films which are mainly based around remote locations, he feels the need to fill the long stretches of silence with clumsy bursts of the main character talking inanely to herself, often informing the viewer of the blatantly obvious by commenting on things seeming strange. Things go downhill towards the end, with the last act coming across as confusing rather than ambiguous, though thanks to a short running time and some decent direction it remains a competent example of genre filmmaking.
Jong-heon Jeong (director) / Il-han Yoo (screenplay)
CAST: Eun-jin Baek, Yoon-jeong Choi, Ho Im, Hyeon-kyeong Im, Myeong-jin Lee, Eun-hye Park, Yeon-soo Yoo
Hidden Floor (2006)
Next up is “Hidden Floor”, directed by Kwon Il Soon, an obvious mixture of the key modern Asian ghost films “Dark Water” and “Ju-on: the Grudge”, with a dash of “APT” and “Phone” thrown in for good measure, possibly as a nod of thanks or flattery to Ahn. The set up is certainly familiar, with a single mother called Min Young moving into a new apartment with her young daughter, only to find that the apparently non-existent fourth floor may be inhabited by a couple of murderous ghosts. All the familiar motifs of the form are present and correct, with poor Min being tormented by strange noises and visions while the increasing pressure from her job puts her relationship with her daughter under serious strain.
Whilst there is nothing new whatsoever about “Hidden Floor”, with pretty much every scene having been seen somewhere else, Kwon does at least have the good sense to keep the action coming thick and fast. Most of the frights come from sudden screeching noises or sudden appearances of the ghost (long haired, naturally) in the background, though there are a few startling splash of blood, especially during the surprisingly brutal final scenes.
Although the film lacks any real driving mystery, it still manages to engage, mainly due to the viewer being amused by the way that the heroine is incredibly slow on the uptake, missing obvious clues to the reasons behind the clearly non-accidental deaths and remaining bizarrely oblivious to another character who is hilariously suspicious throughout, almost to the point of winking at the camera and saying, ‘Hey, I have a secret’. All of this works well to make “Hidden Floor” entertaining enough to rise above its complete lack of originality, and to provide ninety minutes of lowest common denominator ghost fun for anyone not yet fed up with the form.
Il-soo Kwon (director) / Il-han Yoo (screenplay)
CAST: Seo-hyeong Kim, Yoo-jeong Kim
The third film, Kim Eun Kyung’s “D-Day” is a slice of schoolgirl horror and is undoubtedly the best of the bunch. Set in a boarding academy which offers a year of intensive pre-college entrance exam study, it follows a group of four roommates who gradually crack up under the intense pressure of the prison-like atmosphere, made worse by the fact that the school appears to be haunted. Finally, one girl goes completely off the rails and begins experiencing bloody visions of corpse-littered corridors which seem to indicate a horrible incident in the school’s past, one which appears to be in danger of repeating itself in the present day.
As well as being superior to the other entries in the “One Day Suddenly” collection, “D-Day” is actually better than the “Whispering Corridors” series and other school-set films from which it takes its inspiration, providing a far more tense and condemnatory picture of the real life horrors of the Korean education system. After an ironic start which suggests the academy to be a friendly, inspirational place, Kim wastes no time in showing that the opposite is in fact true, with the teachers resembling prison guards and the students being stripped of individuality and forced to do nothing other than work.
The tension is added to by the film’s structure, which shows times on screen detailing the students’ daily routine, as well as counting down the days to the dreaded exam day. As the film progresses, the characters of the four roommates gradually change, and their relationships worsen, and it is arguably this which provides the film with most of its horror rather than the supernatural, which tends to intrude rather than dominate. Of course, in the final reel everything goes to hell, and although a little clumsily handled, the conclusion is effectively bloody, providing a fittingly bleak end.
Eun-kyeong Kim (director) / Il-han Yoo (screenplay)
CAST: Eun-Seong, Jin-yong Heo, Joo-ryeong Kim, Ri-na Kim, Yeong-jin Sin, Joo-hee Yoo
Dark Forest (2006)
The final film, “Dark Forest”, directed by Kim Jung Min is basically a Korean take on “The Evil Dead”, with a group of five youngsters venturing into the titular woods for a weekend of fun, only to find themselves falling prey to an evil curse. One by one they are claimed by the unseen force, which has the unpleasant habit of transforming them into zombie like demons who can only be killed by bodily dismemberment. Their only hope is the fact that one of their number has the mysterious power to predict death, though sadly this only seems to come into play seconds before someone’s demise, adding little more than a touch of bloody irony to the proceedings.
Although a little slow moving to begin with, “Dark Forest” is very entertaining, mainly due to Kim not stinting on the gore, with plenty of stabbings, axe chopping and other delightful forms of mutilation. The classic woodsy setting is evocatively employed and makes for a nice change from the usual ghost shenanigans, with the characters themselves being daft enough to make for perfect demon-fodder, leaving the viewer free to enjoy the film as a visceral experience.
Kim’s direction is tight, with a few flourishes here and there to keep things interesting, and though the characters do tend to spend a ridiculously long time expiring, usually so that they can blurt out one final melodramatic speech, this only adds to the amusement. As such, like “D-Day”, “Dark Forest” stands as one of the better recent examples of Korean horror, and helps to make “One Day Suddenly” a must see package for all fans of the form, even those who have grown tired of the genre’s lack of innovation.
Jeong-min Kim (director) / Jeong-min Kim(screenplay)
CAST: Young-joon Kim, Jong-hyeok Lee, Choong-seon Park, Yi-hyeon So