asian horror movies

Face (페이스)
Made in: South Korea
Language: Korean
Director: Yoo Sang-Gon
Starring: Song Yun-Ah, Shin Hyun-Jun
Year: 2004

Synopsis: Like a lot of other Asian horror movies, this one deals with a screeching ghost that has long hair. Widower Hyun-Min (Shin Hyun-Jun), specializes in reconstructing faces from skulls. He's been a boon to various police departments in Seoul, and is simply the best at what he does. When a string of murdered bodies turns up, it's up to Hyun-Min to assist investigations by putting the recovered skulls back together.

But the health of his young daughter, who is recovering from a heart transplant, seems to be deteriorating. Despite the fact that she's gasping for air half the time, the cardiologist looking after her, Dr. Yoo, assures Hyun-Min that she's okay.

Hyun-Min resigns from his job to look after her full time, and sends her to the country to stay with her grandmother. But shortly after quitting, he and his daughter both start seeing the ghost of a long-haired woman. She appears at random and out of nowhere, screeching and generally scaring the sh*t out of them at night. And amidst all of that, Hyun-Min is asked to reconstruct the face of yet another skull.

The skull is delivered to his home by Sun-Young (Song Yun-Ah), a beautiful woman who is supposed to assist him in the reconstruction process. Although she encourages him to finish the job, Hyun-Min refuses. But as the hauntings intensify, he agrees because he assumes the ghost is that of the murdered victim crying out for justice (and will leave his daughter alone once he's finished the job).

While all this is going on, the police start noticing a consistent pattern to the killings. All of the victims had a condition known as "Beta Allergy" (which doesn't exist in real life), which is the same condition that Hyun-Min's daughter now has. With his daughter's condition now related to the homicide investigation, Hyun-Min starts becoming suspicious of Dr. Yoo and just how he obtains the organs necessary for transplants.

A supernatural premonition takes Hyun-Min to a construction site where yet another skull is found. This final skull uncovers the full conspiracy, and reveals the shocking truth behind Sun-Young...

The Good: The first twelve minutes or so are pretty frightening (at least I thought so). Even if the scares aren't terribly original, they're well directed. Face is a movie that's very well filmed, well acted, and the specific expertise of the protagonist gives the story some uniqueness.

Although meant to be a thriller, much effort was made to tell a coherent story. Director Yoo Sang-Gon also takes the high road of trying to be genuinely scary rather than gory. And I'm really glad that this didn't turn out to be an "evil organ makes people do evil things" kind of movie. The non-linear structure is interesting, and no matter what you think of the final twist, you have to admit that it was very gutsy.

The Bad: Despite an ending that comes out of left field, most of the major plot turns are predictable (such as the blossoming romance between Hyun-Min and Sun-Young). The exchanges between the two actually slow the movie down too much in the middle, and it gets to the point where it becomes boring. And before you even get halfway through the film, you'll be to figure out who the baddies are.

The ghost itself is arguably scary, but the "long hair and white gown" look in Asian horror movies has been done to death (no pun intended) and is getting old really fast. The visual creepiness is becoming a cliché, and I hope that our filmmaking friends in the Far East have a new trend in the works.

Who would like this movie: Face is for you if you like Asian horror movies and foreign films, but I can't say this is one of the better scary movies to come from South Korea. The ending alone might warrant at least one viewing, but there are enough problems with pacing and logic to render this a so-so film overall.

(2 and 1/2 stars out of 4)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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