Sorum (2001) Movie Review

I was hesitant to watch Sorum, simply because I’ve seen too many Asian horror films that just didn’t, well, horrify me all that much. The Slow Bore Horror genre, in particular, is wearing thin, and I’ve gone out of my way to avoid them. I suppose it’s a case of too much hype and not enough rewards. And so I’ve had this copy of Sorum lying around for a while, and have just now taken a look at it. After watching it, I realize now that I should have done so a long time ago.

Sorum is a psychological thriller starring Kim Myeong-min as Yong-hyun, a lonely cab driver with only two points of interest in his life: his hamster and Bruce Lee. Yong-hyun is moving into a dilapidated tenement building as the movie opens, and he has curiously very few belongings. He’s a traveler, a man who doesn’t stay in one place for too long. We know very little about Yong-hyun — who he is, where he comes from, and how he has come to stay in this not-very attractive building.

Yong-hyun immediately discovers Sun-yeong (Jeong Jin-yeong), a young woman living down the hallway from him. Sun-yeong is trapped in an abusive marriage that results in her walking around with a black eye more often than not. The two mutually lonely and laconic individuals become drawn to one another, perhaps sensing something immediately comfortable in the other. Their mutual attraction comes to a head one stormy night when Sun-yeong, defending herself, kills her husband. Without batting an eye, Yong-hyun is burying the body in the woods, as Sun-yeong looks on, stunned. The two almost immediately begins a love affair, but how long will it lasts?

Sorum is not a horror film. It has no ghosts and no supernatural elements. What makes up the “horror” in Sorum is the horrific nature of man and what they are capable of given the right circumstances. The characters of Sun-yeong and Yong-hyun embody this belief — they’re harmless when unprovoked, but dangerous when threatened. Despite the fact that Sun-yeong has murdered her husband (although justified, it is still homicide) the act of burying the body washes away all sense of guilt. When Sun-yeong’s husband “disappears,” there is no sense of remorse or even a need to consider him anymore. The two lovers simply move on as if he never existed in the first place. As people, Sun-yeong and Yong-hyun are doomed as individuals, and together, it’s only a matter of time before one of them explodes — or maybe both.

Yun Jong-chan has crafted a fine thriller. Sorum moves at its own pace, but will never be mistaken for a Slow Bore Horror film. Even though its camera moves slowly in gradual pans and tight close-ups, it has energy, even vitality, which a lot of movies in the Slow Bore Horror movie genre lack. It helps that both Kim Myeong-min (Yong-hyun) and Jeong Jin-yeong (Sun-yeong) are accomplished actors, and manages to speak volumes with silence and indirect looks. This is what good actors can do with a movie that has very little to say by way of dialogue and more than enough to say with brief glances. The two actors bring life and energy even when they are standing still, a difficult feat for any actor.

Of course, good actors are wasted without a director who knows how to use them. Director Yun treats us to a movie that is filled with atmosphere and brimming with pessimism. A sense of doom permeates the whole movie and gives it a somber feel. The look of the apartment building, from inside out, is perfectly broken and frightening. A trip through the hallways seems like a walk down a dark, damp tunnel where anything can be waiting at the next corner. The building’s lights flicker on and off seemingly at a whim, and the lack of tenants — there seems to be only a few families still living there — brings the feeling of desolation to the forefront.

Sorum also benefits from a director who doesn’t feel it’s necessary to throw in cheap scares at us. No one jumps out of corners, out of staircases or broom closets, and the movie is as grounded in reality as any movie with its subject matter can be. Director Yun also makes great use of excellent foley, as the movie’s background noise becomes another character alongside the apartment building. Every footstep and raindrop seems perfectly time, every patch of shadows along the stairwells and in the apartment hallways perfectly placed.

The only weak spots in Sorum are its secondary characters, most of whom exist only for exposition purposes. Even the neighbor who is writing a horror novel centered on the apartment building feels over-extended and irrelevant. The Eun-soo character, Sun-yeong’s only friend in the building, provides little meat to the story and seems out of place. We are told that Eun-soo is still grieving over a lover who died in the same room that Yong-hyun is now living in, and yet I didn’t seem to care. She didn’t make me care, and neither did the would-be writer with dollar signs and fame in his eyes.

It’s difficult to talk too much about Sorum beyond the 30-minute mark, since doing so might be spoiling its twists and turns and surprise revelations. What I found most enjoyable about Sorum is that it doesn’t beat you over the head with its revelations, and instead lets them play out slowly, but perfectly clear. The movie concerns itself with hereditary and genetics and asks the question: Is what we do (or don’t do) preordained? How does our genetics (our hereditary bloodline) fit into our actions (or inactions)? Can we even alter our future? Is it possible? Or has fate already paved the road to our doom — or salvation?

When it comes to self-preservation, and given the right circumstances, anyone is capable of almost anything. That’s human nature, spurred on by a large helping of hereditary conditioning. That’s Sorum in a nutshell.

Jong-chan Yun (director) / Jong-chan Yun (screenplay)
CAST: Jin-yeong Jeong …. Sun-yeong
Myeong-min Kim …. Yong-hyun

Buy Sorum on DVD