Saturday, December 29, 2007


Though Haute Tension director Alexandre Aja has implied that his upcoming Mirrors is more re-imagining than remake, it still found its origins in Kim Sung-ho’s Geoul Sokeuro, so I figured why not make the return trip to the haunted (and awkwardly-named) Dreampia Department Store, and its multitude of mirrors which hide a frightening and fatal secret.

Looking back…

It’s been awhile since I last saw Geoul Sokeuro (Into The Mirror), and I’d somehow managed to forget what a fascinating hybrid it is, succeeding in taking several elements that sometimes prove to be disparate and contrary in other lesser films, and making them work hand-in-hand. Here, you’ll find the supernatural co-mingling with the psychological, while some corporate double-dealing is going on, all of these aspects functioning within what is ostensibly a police procedural.

Wu Yeong-min (Yu Ji-tae) is a former police officer who, following a fatal on-duty shooting incident, is now Security Chief for the about-to-re-open Dreampia Department Store. It’s a made-up post for Yeong-min, a disgruntled courtesy from his uncle, Jeong Il-seong (the ubiquitous Gi Ju-bong), who owns Dreampia.
But just as the young man is a troubled sort, so is his current place of employment. A fire, some injuries, a death; all of this a year past, yet cause for a picket line from family members seeking just compensation.
Now, what seems to be an apparent suicide of a Dreampia employee threatens the planned grand re-opening, though Officer Heo Hyeon-su (Sorum’s Kim Myeong-min) suspects otherwise. And while we, the audience, also know it wasn’t suicide—this is the effective opening sequence of the film—we also know it isn’t as simple as the suspected serial killer.

Writer/director Kim Sung-ho takes this fairly straight-forward set-up, peoples it with borderline stock characters (the troubled, disgraced cop; the greedy businessman), and then proceeds to take the narrative down some rather interesting avenues. With a script stuffed to the brim with fascinating notions, and which remains constantly aware of the thematic and narrative possibilities of its central image, Kim assembles a movie that is decidedly and defiantly not in the vengeful, long-haired contortionist ghost School of Asian Horror.
Kim is also cognizant of the visual possibilities, so, given that the film delves into the nature of mirrors and reflections, we have a whole lot of symmetrical shots and doubling, with a load of sleight-of-hand, computer-assisted mirror trickery, and naturally, twins.

What’s also interesting about Geoul Sokeuro, I feel, is that it’s arguably a tad too cerebral to be as scary as, say, a Ringu or a Ju-on, that it is, perhaps, far more interested in constructing a sense of mystery than scaring the living daylights out of its audience.
Though that may very well be the case, what does stick after a viewing of the film, is the disturbing nature of mirrors, of just exactly who—and what—is reflected there. For my money, that’s a far more potent legacy than some transitory jump scares.
Admittedly, the nearly two-hour running time, coupled with its purposeful pace, may make Geoul Sokeuro seem longish and slow to some, but as I pointed out, this isn’t your average Asian horror film.
So if you’re open to something different from the scene, Geoul Sokeuro has got all of that going for it, and it’s got a climactic death scene which is not only thematically apropos, it’s also worthy of Argento.
What else do I need to say?

Since then…

Yu Ji-tae has been in a number of movies since Geoul Sokeuro, though most film geeks will recognize him from Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy and Chinjeolhan Geumjassi (Sympathy For Lady Vengeance).
Meanwhile, Kim Sung-ho went on to direct a segment in the omnibus film Nunbushin Haru (One Shining Day). Commissioned for the 60th anniversary of Korea’s liberation, Numbushin Haru’s narratives dealt indirectly with the relationship between Korea and Japan.

Looking forward…

In a interview, Alexandre Aja said this of his upcoming remake/reimagining: “I think we all have a special relationship [with] mirrors. The idea was to really find a way to make a movie that will change a way of watching yourself in the mirror and try to do something scary. I wanted to do something that falls in line with The Shining—that's my favorite movie ever. For me, when New Regency came to me with the concept of Mirrors, I felt like I could try to explore something in the vein of The Shining. Greg [Levasseur] and I decided to start from scratch and not connect with the original Korean movie. I think we have something really scary."
He also went on to say that his initial director’s cut was "very graphic" and "takes the shocking gore and violence of survival horror and applies that to the supernatural thriller. I'm happy with the movie we made and in our genre you have to be tough and not make compromises. A lot of times you're asked to pare back and trim down the gore, but I'm fighting to keep it in—to make the movie I want to see as a core audience member."

Sounds promising.
And given that I’m a big fan of most everything in Haute Tension, except for that needless climactic plot flip, and I felt that Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes remake lacked the unbearably taut thrills of his previous outing, I’m still in the market for that Aja film that will completely and utterly kick my a$$.
Here’s hoping Mirrors will be it. (And if it isn’t, there’s always his next project, his remake of Joe Dante’s Piranha…)
Aja’s Mirrors stars Kiefer Sutherland, Amy Smart, and Jason Flemyng.

(Geoul Sokeuro OS courtesy of; Into The Mirror DVD cover art [2-disc UK release] courtesy of

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