“Can’t you just stay with us?” said Young-hee.
My thirst for Korean gems of mystery, thriller, and horror is—undoubtedly—unquenchable. Ever since a more traditional Kim Jee-won’s A Tale of Two Sisters to some Hollywood smogs like Park Chan-wook’s Stoker and Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, Korean filmmakers’ cinematic taste have never diminished. What I like best is that they know how to breach cultural taboo effectively—with sufficient amount of blood, visceral suspension, profound mysteries, and some doses of black comedy enough to make you sick.
Hansel and Gretel belongs to the same corridor as Kim Jee-won’s Two Sisters; both draw inspirations from fairy tale—the former is western and the latter is local. Yet, Hansel and Gretel is not a Korean version of Brother Grimms’ tale of the same title; it’s a completely different tale with only some shade of influences lingered. It’s a creepy fantasy film that immediately reminds me of Pan’s Labyrinth in terms of fanciness and literature horror.
It’s being creepy and fancy at the same time as a man survived a car accident and got stranded in the midst of forest. The man got saved by a little girl who brought him to her fancy residence to meet her family. The house, dwelling in the middle of the forest, is bizarre—full of whimsical ornaments and candy-colored properties as if the residents are ready to celebrate Christmas. It’s about time the man realized that something wicked surrounded him and the house’ proprietor was never ones he imagined. From there, the new fairy tale, darker than traditional Hansel and Gretel, begins.
The film started as a parade of bizarre visual spectacles—crafted with fuddling production design and flossy costumes. It starts as a rejuvenation of a fairy tale in Asian perspective as it introduces other characters opposite to the man, three children with their parent. Gradually, the film shifted from a dreamlike fairy tale into an inventive Asian horror that appears cute and scary at the same time; exploiting the three children as the culprit, the horror found a home.
As the story goes, there are things to unveil; yet, I must say, things got piling up in the end—too many and too cliched. The worst part is the third act in which the film attempted to explain the mysteries that had been veiled for the whole duration; it seems that the filmmakers wanted to direct the audiences to only one conclusion in the end. Though, I love it if it’s left ambiguous and subject to bias. However, Hansel and Gretel is quite bold in presenting such an inventive story with twists that being predictable but never failed to annoy although the fantastic buildup is almost ruined by a lame finale. Thanks to the man behind the production design and the three child actors that successfully make this tale a cute and a creepy one at the same time. A bar is set high, I think.
VERDICT: Hansel and Gretel draws some influences from Brother Grimms’ fairy tale to craft a darker, modern fairy tale from Asian perspective. By far, it’s been one of the most inventive Korean horrors that presents a fancy and creepy tale at once—thanks to the production designer and the child actors.
Hansel and Gretel (2007)
헨젤과 그레텔 a.k.a. Henjel gwa Geuretel
Fantasy, Horror, Mystery Directed by: Yim Pil-sung Written by: Kim Min-sook, Yim Pil-sung Starred by: Chun Jung-myung, Shim Eun-kyung, Eun Won-jae, Jin Ji-hee Running Time: 117 mins