“Can you believe this? It’s already been 40 minutes and no one’s dead yet. What kind of a horror film is this?”
That was the thought that kept going through my head as I sat through “Doll Master”, the latest attempt to cash in on the Asian horror craze out of South Korea. At the very least, any self-respecting horror film will throw a bone to the audience with a brutal killing early in the film. Or, if the film is really trying to garner favors from the genre fan, then at least start the bloodbath by the 30-minute mark. Apparently “Doll Master” is determined to buck the trend, since no one even comes close to dying until well past the 40th minute, and even that “kill” never takes place onscreen, but instead cuts away before anything happens.
How do you say, “What a cheat, are you kidding me?” in Korean?
“Doll Master” opens in the past, where a narrator tells us the tale of a doll maker who fell in love with a woman in red. He makes a doll in her image to impress her, and it works. The couple falls in love, but when the woman is found murdered, the doll master is blamed, arrested, and then killed by vigilantes in the woods. The doll, not content to be without her maker, sits by his grave for all time, apparently mourning his lost as if alive.
Fast-forward to the present, where a group of strangers from the city have arrived at an isolated art museum in the middle of nowhere, with the promise of dolls to be made in their image. Of the group, there is Hae-mi (Yu-mi Kim), a sculptor; Tae-seong (Hyeong-tak Shim), a male model looking for work; Yeong-ha (Ji-young Ok), a creepy woman who claims she talks to her doll Damian; with a horny photographer and a ditzy high school student rounding out the final two. The group is greeted by the museum’s creepy curator, who introduces them to the museum’s creepy dolls, as well as the creepy doll maker, who happens to be confined to a wheelchair.
Now fast-forward through a series of endless chatting about souls and dolls, pedestrian attempts at atmosphere, and the creepy curator and his creepy boss doing creepy things with scenes of creepy dolls and loud Shock Music meant to engender “creepiness” even though nothing particularly creepy is really happening onscreen. Now, fast-forward again to the 44th minute, where the movie finally kills someone, but does it in such a way that we don’t even get to see the good bits. One moment a ghost (one of the dolls, presumably) is playing “now you see me, now you don’t” with its victim and the next the victim is screaming. Cut to black.
At fault here is the derivative and uninspired script by rookie director Yong-ki Jeong, who has taken a cue from his fellow South Korean comrades and is content to rely on an endless series of Shock Music and one lonely Super Duper Plot Twist to do the job instead of, you know, writing a decent script to begin with. As for the twist itself (the revelation being filled with dramatic pauses and flashing thunder, of course), it’s not something you couldn’t have figured out in, say, the film’s first 10 minutes.
And because the film has been building up to its dramatic Big Reveal, when it finally comes one can’t help but think, “That’s it? I sat through almost an hour of nothing for this?” It’s not until almost an hour has passed that “Doll Master” bothers to start introducing some brain cells to the proceedings, but by then the audience will have been aggravated too much by the vacuous nature of such a dull movie to care about the soon-to-die characters. (And really, if you can’t figure out who is going to bite it first, and who is going to survive, you’ve been living under a rock.)
With a movie like “Doll Master”, questions abound. Such as, why in the world did Jeong think a life-size doll was scary? (And yes, if you were wondering, the doll does in fact have long black hair that constantly obscures her face. Gee, wonder where he got that bright idea from?) Why did the film go on for so long without anything of note happening? Are we really supposed to sit like good little boys and girls while the film callously drag its feet? And how about this: suspensions of disbelief is one thing, but when your film doesn’t even bother to try to make sense, it’s downright condescending.
If he isn’t boring the audience to death with a listless script that shows no narrative movement, Jeong will have them rolling in the aisles laughing from some truly idiotic and absurd moments. In one of the film’s more ludicrous moments, a character reveals that he’s actually a cop, and having handcuffed a suspect to a wall, realizes that he forgot the handcuff’s keys in his room! Well, at least he remembered to bring his gun along — which he promptly hands over to the person he suspected of multiple murders just a few minutes ago.
Also, if the creepy wheelchair-bound artist is revealed to be the doll (don’t worry, anyone with half a brain could guess this super duper secret the first time they saw her), and she proves that she has psychokinetic abilities and can basically teleport everywhere, why does she still ride around in a cumbersome wheelchair? Of course the answer is simple: she digs wheelchairs!
Just kidding. But at least it makes more sense that this sophomoric and lazy movie.
Yong-ki Jeong (director) / Yong-ki Jeong (screenplay)
CAST: Yu-mi Kim …. Hae-mi
Eun-kyeong Lim …. Mi-na
Hyeong-tak Shim …. Tae-seong
Ji-young Ok …. Yeong-ha
Hyeong-jun Lim …. Jeong-ki