A scene from SORUM, directed by Yun Jong-chan for DreamMax Films.

Sorum (2001, Yun Jong-chan)

Sorum’s approach makes the film singular. While the DVD cover certainly suggests a ghost story, the first half of the film does not. Instead, it’s a film about urban apathy, just one with an uncanny style. Director Yun really does know how to make a film–one scene in the film had me ready to proclaim it the greatest journal of self-destruction since Leaving Las Vegas (but then the film changed again, so I didn’t get to make the claim). Yun sprinkles Sorum with breather moments–romantic scenes, still highly intense, but at the opposite of the feelings he infused into the majority–and the film’s more an example of his ability than anything else. Sorum is not a good film. While Yun’s writing, on the scene level, appears to be excellent (I’m going off subtitles, so who knows?), and he never really sells the film out, never really exploits it, it just doesn’t turn out to be meaningful. There are spikes of content, but it’s about the confirmation of the supernatural in the end.

The ghost stories maneuver these confirmations, keeping them either full in the viewer’s mind or full out–though I can’t think of a ghost story where there isn’t really a ghost in the end, just because of the audience’s expectations–and Sorum’s maneuvering is fine. But the maneuvering inherently sells out the work of the actors and the work of the good writing. It’s cryogenics. It can go tabula rosa. It has to take no responsibility for itself. Sorum manages to delay this cop-out–even the expectation of a cop-out, because the first hour is such a weird film, I thought it was possible–until the last fifteen or twenty minutes. Then it goes. It has a beautiful few scenes of people in terrible situations, just awful situations, then it cops out. Ghost stories have no responsibility. People stories have tons. Responsibility is rarely what an audience wants to address.

The acting in Sorum is good, though the male lead, Kim Myeong-min, can’t hold on to the character throughout. The female lead, Jang Jin-Young, does such excellent work, the cop-out does her the most disrespect. I know when Kubrick made The Shining, he didn’t tell the little kid it was a horror movie and shot it so he’d never know… I never got the feeling from Jang she was just starring in a genre picture (similar, for example, to Toni Collette in The Sixth Sense), while it was obvious Kim knew what was going on.

I tend not to see American horror movies because of who’s directing and writing them–and the exploitative sense the genre has come to embrace–but, again, Korea knows how to make fluff better than Americans. Horror films are just as much fluff as romantic comedies and I suppose if Sorum’s possible quality was so apparent throughout, I wouldn’t be so upset. Maybe I’m not upset. What’s a good synonym for dejected? After watching Sorum, I am dispirited. Not incredibly dispirited (it’s not like Vanilla Sky or something), but dispirited nonetheless.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Yun Jong-chan; director of photography, Hwang Seo-shik; edited by Kyeong Min-ho; music by Park Jung-ho and Yun Mi-na; produced by Baek Jong-hak; released by DreamMax Films.

Starring Kim Myeong-min (Yong-hyun), Jang Jin-yeong (Sun-yeong), Gi Ju-bong, Ahn Jo and Ki-hyeon Kim.


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