Wednesday, June 22, 2011
The film is rather convoluted and opens with a zombie talking ominously to the camera, than a man in a suit explains the story to the audience, than a narrator explains the situation, and then there is a flashback to show how the events of the story unfolded. The story is similarly convoluted but at its core there is a young woman who is married (to Park Nou-Sik) and whom is terribly treated by the other women of the house until she finally commits suicide, leaving behind her only son. She comes back as a kwishin and gets her revenge on those who wronged her. Unlike "Song of Death", "Wolha Public Cemetary" focuses most of its energy on detailing the various ways in which the girl has been wronged and the actual kwishin revenge takes up only the last ten minutes of the movie, which is rather disappointing. However, there are a couple of good scenes that deserve mentioning.
One of my favorite scenes was after the girl's suicide when her husband finds her body and sees she has written a suicide note. He holds the note up and as he reads it a voice sings the words for the audience to hear in the style of Pansori. This was similarly done in Lee Doo-Yong's 1980 film "The Last Witness" when a suicide note is sung on the voice over as a character onscreen reads the note. In this film though, we cut from him reading the note to a small group of women dressed all in white around the girl's coffin and one of them is singing out loud the suicide note. That is, the non-diagetic sound becomes diagetic in this scene, whereas in "The Last Witness" it remains non-diagetic. Either way I really like this device and am now curious if this is something commonly done in Korea. That is, the singing out loud of suicide notes.
One fun sequence that occurs in this film is when one of the ajumma who wronged the girl is now being tormented by her kwishin. Following the principle I discussed in relation to "Song of Death" where the kwishin doesn't directly act on the characters, she just appears in their heads and scares them into doing things to themselves the ajumma is walking around the house at night being terrified by the kwishin. Suddenly a cat hisses at her and the audience jumps. She is angry at the cat for scaring her but then she looks again and now the cat is a human skull! She is startled again but then the skull starts moving and the narrator from the beginning of the movie walks out from the shadows holding the skull and starts talking to the ajumma. It is a bizarre sequence, but in the context of the film rather fun.
Perhaps surprisingly this film is rather bloody and includes a severed limb and a severed head. But overall it's not that scary because the climax of the movie literally involves people walking around aimlessly when suddenly loud music plays and a shot of a strangely lit kwishin with blood on her mouth laughing is inserted. The character is startled and walks off in another direction until the same shot is inserted again. This goes on and on and on and on.
Despite this rather disappointing climax, the story itself is fairly engaging if extremely convoluted and because it proved so influential in starting the kwishin production cycle it deserves a pass on a lot of stuff. Most of the elements in this film would be improved in later Korean horror films, but this one gets bonus points for being among the first. It is also available on an out of print DVD that has english subtitles and is worth watching if only to get a sample of what the kwishin films of this time were like.