In my recent review for The Ghost I mentioned that I'd noticed several South Korean films which mirror the basic premise of I Know What You Did Last Summer. So, was I surprised when I popped in another South Korean film, Arang, and discovered that it to shared this central plot? Honestly, no. What did surprise me was how the film took the typical The Ring-type vengeful ghost antics and put a new slant on them.
Arang opens with violent crimes detective So-yeong (Song Yoon-ha) and her new partner Hygeon-gi (Lee Dong-Wook) investigating a series of murders. One victim is found burned in his home, while another died of an apparent heart attack. Following the autopsies, So-yeong and Hygeon-gi realize that the murders were connected and that the victims knew one another. They had been friends and several years ago, the first victim had committed manslaughter while on a road trip with his buddies. They track down the other members of the group and soon realize that they can't protect these men, who are all being tracked by a vengeful spirit. So-yeong realizes that all of the victims have received the same e-mail, which features pictures of a small, coastal town. Venturing there, she is able to begin piecing the puzzle together.
As with so many other recent Asian horror films, at its core, Arang is simply a re-hashed version of The Ring or Ju-on with its long-haired female ghost, with that essential dash of I Know What You Did Last Summer, as we learn that a group of friends are hiding a deadly secret. (The ubiquitous group photo of the friends (in happier times) is a must for these movies.) The plot here could be laid on top of any other movie in this sub-genre, as we have a series of ghost-related deaths, a dark secret uncovered, and a journey to a small town for the resolution. (Why does this last part happen so much in Asian films? The story opens in a city, but then at least one character must travel to a remote village to learn the truth. We rarely see this in Western films.)
The thing which makes Arang somewhat different, and thus, worth seeing, is the way in which the story is told. Instead of focusing on the victims of the hauntings -- those who are in fear of their lives -- the story is told through the eyes of So-yeong and Hygeon-gi. Thus, the movie plays as a police procedural instead of a traditional horror movie. We've seen the ghost and we have a sense of what's going on, and we then follow the two detectives as they examine the crime scenes and find clues. Every horror movie has to have its skeptical characters, but it's a nice touch that our main characters are police detectives who aren't directly experiencing the supernatural occurrences, and thus, it takes a lot to convince them that a ghost is behind the murders. The final act of the film features a wicked plot twist, which I must admit, I didn't see coming. The twist seems to come out of nowhere at first, but the movie follows the cliched procedure of going back and showing us how it all does, in fact, fit together.
While the makers of Arang clearly paid attention to the story, director Sang-hoon Ahn apparently focused too much on the investigative aspects of the script and didn't pay enough attention to the horror film elements of the movie. While the story is relatively tight, the haunting scenes are very dull and cliched. The victim gets the weird e-mail, the ghost with long hair pops up, we see her weird eye (just like in Ringu) and the victim dies. These scenes are done with little aplomb or creativity, save for the final victim's death, when we begin to suspect that the ghost may be more than what we were lead to believe. Given the copycat nature of these movies, you'd think that the makers of Arang would have wanted to do something a little different.
Arang tries to forgets its past on DVD courtesy of Tartan Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good, as the picture is sharp and clear. The transfer appears to have come from a pristine negative, as the image shows no overt defects and there's no notable grain. The colors look very good and the image has a very nice depth. I did note some video noise and mild artifacting at times, but otherwise the transfer is good.
The DVD carries both a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track and a DTS 5.1 track. Both provide clear dialogue and sound effects. The movie features some very nice stereo effects, as well as effective usage of the LFE channel during the ghost scenes. I noted a nice amount of surround sound effects, but during the haunting scenes and during street scenes.
The Arang DVD has a nice array of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY featuring director Sang-hoon Ahn, producer Lee Min-ho, and actors Song Yoon-ha and Lee Dong-Wook. This commentary is in Korean and is subtitled. The talk is very informative, as the speakers give a very detailed account of the film's production. They talk about the locations and actors, as well as the story. "The Making of Arang" (34 minutes) is an unusual "making of" as it features brief comments from the director and the main actors which are then followed by several minutes of behind-the-scenes footage. So we get only a few minutes of interviews and a ton of on-set footage. "Behind the Scenes" (30 minutes) is essentially done the same way, but this time we hear from the hair/make up stylist and the production designer. "Interview with Cast" (3 minutes) actually has more comments from the hair and make up stylist. Jung Dong-in talks about his score in "Interview with Music Director" (12 minutes), which, again, is dominated by behind-the-scene footage. The DVD contains 10 DELETED SCENES, which run about 13 minutes. (There is a PLAY ALL feature.) These are most extended versions of scenes in the film, or incidental deleted moments. The final extra is the ORIGINAL TRAILER.
When the Asian horror boom hit a few years ago, I was really into the genre. But, I soon found the films to be indistinguishable. Arang has the same elements of many other horror movies from the East, but by playing as a police procedural, it does add a slightly different component to the mix.