Sunday, August 19, 2007

FEBRUARY 29: An Intelligent Korean Thriller

FEBRUARY 29 (psychological thriller in Korean)

Cast: Park Eun-hye, Lee Myeong-jin, Baek Eun-jin, Choi Yoon-jeong and Ho Im
Director: Jeong Joon-heong
Time: 93 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)
WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? "February 29" is one of the more intelligent thrillers to have emerged from Korea last year. It doesn’t have that silly white-powdered long-haired ghost, screechy soundtrack or irrelevant jolts to shake us every few minutes or so. Instead, director Jeong Joon-heong uses a lonely highway toll-gate in the middle of nowhere to set the mood and ambience for tension and suspense. He just allows us to frighten ourselves.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The plot revolves around toll-gate girl Han Ji-yeon (Park Eun-hye) who receives a bloodstained ticket from a creepy driver in a black car one night. The next morning, she learns that someone has been murdered near the toll-gate and the police arrive to question her. Ji-yeon tells her friend Jongsook (Lee Myeong-jin) about what happened and finds out that a terrible car accident 12 years ago had claimed many lives, including a woman whose body had never been found. Jongsook also tells her that on each February 29, someone would be found brutally murdered near the toll plaza – and it has been four years since the last time. Coincidentally or not, Jongsook’s birthday falls on Feb 29!

HIGHS & LOWS: Fans of American slasher flicks may find the pace rather slow and dull but "February 29" is more of a psychological thriller than a gory horror flick. The movie opens at the end of the plot – with a journalist going to a mental asylum to interview Ji-yeon about her ‘visions’ and claims of a woman killer scheduled to come after her on that fateful date. Hence, with the narrative unravelled in flashbacks, we see everything from the point-of-view of Ji-yeon. Whether we believe or not her is up to us.

With such a plot set-up, a lot depends on the performance and credibility of the protagonist – and here, Park Eun-hye manages to deliver. She has us rooting for her right from the start, sympathising with her as a girl living alone in an apartment and having to work the late night shift. Her character could have been better developed, perhaps to include a boyfriend or family members, but director Jeong seems to opt for fewer characters, probably to emphasise her loneliness and insomnia as the cause for her state of mind. Well, it works nonetheless, without making Ji-yeon seem like an outcast.

THE LOWDOWN: "February 29" is a part of four-movie series called "4 Horror Tales" which were made last year. The others are "Forbidden Floor", "Roommates", and "Dark Forest". Fans of Asian horror may want to check them out.


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