Korean horror takes a furry, feline turn with “The Cat”, from writer director Byun Seung Wook (“Solace”), pitting television actress Park Min Young (“City Hunter”, “Sungkyunkwan Scandal”) against a killer kitty and the usual requisite vengeful ghost. Another of the summer 2011 genre hits, the film also stars Kim Dong Wook (“Romantic Heaven”) and Sin Da Eun (“Midnight FM”), and marks the debut of Kim Ye Ron, sister of top child actress Kim Rae Won (“Insadong Scandal”).
Park Min Young plays pet shop worker So Yeon, a young animal-loving woman whose life has been blighted by the claustrophobia she has suffered since childhood. After one of her customers mysteriously dies in an elevator, she is given her cat Bidan to take care of, and soon enough is being plagued by visions of a weird little girl. She confides in her best friend Bo Hee (Shin Da Eun), who promptly ends up dead, and so with the help of police officer and former crush Joon Suk (Kim Dong Wook) sets out to investigate, convinced that the deaths are somehow linked to the cat.
For many viewers, cats are sinister creatures at the best of times, and director Byun certainly goes out of his way to exploit this, with the feline members of the cast spending most of the running time hissing, yowling, scratching, and generally not acting like cute and cuddly pets. The cats certainly do suffer themselves, not only being put to sleep, but even worse, are subjected to all manner of indignities, being dressed up, given makeovers and fur colourings – likely making the death scenes seem like justified revenge for some viewers. The cat related shocks are combined with more traditional Asian ghost film motifs, with a bob-haired child ghost providing most of the scares and sudden jump frights. Although this is pretty familiar stuff, the ghost is actually one of the more creepy spectres of late, with cat eyes, top rated sneaking skills, and an uncanny strength which allows her to pull victims into closets, under beds and even into furnaces.
In general terms, the scares themselves are fairly obvious and telegraphed, but Byun does a good job of creating an ominous atmosphere and manages to throw in enough spooky action to keep genre fans happy. There are also a few gruesome moments and effective jolts scattered throughout, with some pretty decent death scenes as the more unlikeable cast members get bumped off in satisfying manner. These give the film a real lift and ground its sense of threat, with a couple of neatly staged mass feline attack sequences and the ghost getting the chance to use some nasty looking face shredding claws.
At the same time, the film does make an effort to add a little depth and character development, linking the deaths and hauntings to So Yeon’s claustrophobia. Although the mental illness aspect and her pill popping aren’t really explored in much depth, they do at least make for a certain ambiguity, and this bolsters the central mystery as to the identity of the ghost and the reason behind the cat carnage. Byun also throws in a bit of melodrama through her relationship with Joon Suk, though this is more of an unrequited crush rather than a romance, and thankfully the film doesn’t waste too much time on it, using it mainly to paint her as even more of a sad figure, as do a few hints of a dark secret in her past. Park Min Young is good in the lead role, making So Yeon a sympathetic protagonist despite her flaws and basic passivity, and turns in a quiet though effective performance.
All of this works pretty well, and whilst the plot meanders a bit and has a few slow spots, it’s refreshingly free of any sudden grand twists, its investigation not really beginning until the final act. This having been said, the film does drop the ball a little with its clumsy use of an old woman who randomly wanders in and out of the plot, being called crazy by most of the cast despite quite obviously being on hand for exposition and flashbacks. Still, this isn’t too major a crime, and the film is for the most part an engagingly moody affair, though one with enough eccentric touches to help it attain a much needed sense of identity amongst its many peers.
As a result, whilst by no means outstanding, “The Cat” is a perfectly solid and entertaining piece of Korean horror, and one which should go down well with genre fans. With competent handling from Byun Seung Wook and Park Min Young successfully making the transition to the big screen, it has plenty to recommend it, for cat lovers and haters alike.
Seung-wook Byeon (director) / Seung-wook Byeon (screenplay)
CAST: Min-Young Park … So-hee
Dong-wook Kim … So-yeun
Da-eun Sin Da-eun Sin … Bo-hee