[NOTE: This is a review of a Region 3/NTSC DVD. This DVD may not be playable on your DVD player. Please check to see that your DVD player can play DVDs encoded for Region 3/NTSC prior to purchasing this title.]
Many horror films are built around a specific location. Settings such as spooky houses, graveyards, and mental hospitals have become staples in the horror movie world, as characters often enter these locales and then find themselves trapped. It is also possible to become imprisoned upon a moving vehicle which shows no signs of stopping. This idea has been explored in several fright films and it's one of the building blocks of the Korean film Red Eye.
Red Eye takes place on a late-night train which is departing from Seoul. This will be the last voyage for this particular train, which contains parts from a train which crashed in 1988, killing many of the passengers. Coincidentally, this final voyage is taking place on the anniversary of that tragedy. This also marks the first day of work for hostess Oh Mi-Sun (Shin-yeong Jang), who is befriended by fellow employee Park Chan-shik (Il-guk Song). As the trip progresses, Mi-Sun tries to tend to the passengers, but she keeps seeing strange visions, which appear to be from the past. When a passenger is found dead, Mi-Sun reveals her odd experiences to Chan-shik. Knowing the history of the train, Mi-sun begins to suspect that a "ghost train" has merged with her train and that the spirits of the past are seeking vengeance on the passengers in the present.
Red Eye features a clichéd but promising premise: on the anniversary of a terrible train wreck, a supernatural presence overtakes a modern-day train. However, from that starting point the story veers out of control and completely leaves the tracks. Essentially, the film can't decide what it wants to be, as it throws many elements at the viewer, none of which truly work. The film features only a handful of deaths, all of which smack heavily of influence from Ringu and . The movie features ghostly flashbacks, psychics, spectral images, and at least three vengeful ghosts. As if this mish-mash of horror wasn't confusing enough, the movie presents multiple a perplexing blend of explanations for the events on the train. Aside from the main plot concerning the anniversary of the train wreck (and the recycled train cars), and the idea of a "ghost train" merging with the real train, the film also presents us with one definite ghost who seems bent on revenge, along with two other characters who I think were ghosts who attempt to sabotage the train. The story is also hampered by the stereotypical passengers -- giggling teeangers, horny soldiers, etc. All in all, the overwhelming amount of story in Red Eye interrupts the film's chances of being scary.
And what wasted potential we have here, as this is clearly a top-notch affair. Director Dong-bin Kim had previously helmed The Ring Virus, the Korean take on Ringu. Of the many versions of this story, Kim's was the one which remained the most faithful to the original novel, and thus presented a viewpoint which was different from the other movies. And, his direction isn't bad in Red Eye, as the film features a nice roaming camera and some good set-ups. Also, the train setting is well-used and it's clear that a great deal of work went into prepping the train sets. The acting is good, especially that of Shin-yeong Jang, who appears in nearly every scene in the film. But, it becomes clear after the second act that the film has no idea where it is going and Kim apparently felt pressured to toss as many elements as possible into the movie. However, like a blending of leftovers, the film is a uneven concoction which is quite bland. Red Eye promises thrills and chills, but don't bother taking this trip.
Red Eye chugs onto DVD courtesy of ivision. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks quite good as it is sharp and clear. The picture is relatively free from grain, although there are some minor visible defects from the source material. In addition, the image is slightly washed-out and somewhat dark at times. On the plus side, visible haloes are kept to a minimum and there is very little in the way of artifacting.
The DVD features the original Korean audio track in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. The audio here is very good, and, as you can imagine, the train setting is custom made for a plethora of surround sound and subwoofer effects. But, the dialogue and music sound fine as well and are never drowned-out by the train. The DTS track has a slight edge here as it's crisper and offers more "boom" from the bass channel. The English subtitles are very easy to read and contain only a few grammatical mistakes.
This DVD release of Red Eye is a very nice two-disc set. The first disc contains the film only, while all of the extras are housed on Disc 2. Be aware that there are NO ENGLISH SUBTITLES on the extra features. There is an 8-minute segment which contains on-set and behind-the-scenes video of shots being done or set up. There are no interviews here, only roaming video. There are "Interviews" with six actors from the film (divided into six separate sections), which average 3 minutes in length. These interviews contain some behind-the-scenes footage. There are two sections which show Shin-yeong Jang and Il-guk Song shooting publicity stills for the film, the second of which offers a brief interview with the pair. The next segment contains footage from a publicity event for the film which took place upon a real train. A 6-minute piece shows how the visual FX for the opening scene were layered upon one another. And finally we have the trailer for Red Eye, letterboxed at 1.85:1.
Of the main Asian countries currently producing horror films, I've found the entries from Korea to be the most hit-or-miss. Red Eye certainly shows potential, as it offers a good premise and a nice look, but the movie is ultimately a bore as it tries to be everything to everyone.