Friday, November 23, 2007

THE LAST BREATH: Amateurish Effort

THE LAST BREATH (Korean horror thriller)

Cast: Lee Dong-kyu, Kim Bo-kyung, Kim Tae-woo and Jin Goo
Director: Jung Brothers
Time: 103 mins
Rating: * 1/2 (out of 4)

THE BIG DEAL? "The Last Breath" (formerly known as "Epitaph") is an ambitious undertaking by the Jung Brothers of South Korea, Jung Bum-Sik and Jung Sik. Making their debut effort together, the siblings try to combine cinematic art with graphic horror in this compendium of three tales set in Anseng Hospital of the 1940s. However, while we may marvel at the film's opulently artistic style, we get frustrated by the haphazard and confusing way the stories are unravelled. To make matters worse, the subtitles appear and disappear so fast that it is impossible to read some of them. Throughout the movie, your mind would invariably wander...

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The year is 1979 and an elderly Dr Park Jung-Nam receives a photo album from 1942, taking his mind back to those war years when he was an intern at the Anseng Hospital. Back in those days, Dr Park (Jin Goo) and his friends find themselves caught up in a series of strange incidents. Park had always dreamed of becoming an artist, not a doctor. After the death of his parents, he was brought up by the hospital's director (Ye Soo-Jeong) and betrothed to her daughter. One night, when the body of a beautiful girl is brought to the hospital morgue, Park falls in love with the dead girl, starting a 'relationship' that transcends Earthly bounds.

The second story is about teenager Asako (Ko Joo-yeon), the sole survivor of a horrific car accident that killed her mother and stepfather. When she is taken to the hospital, she is haunted by ghosts, resulting in a tragedy that also affects her caring doctor (Lee Dong-kyu). The final saga is about Dr Kim Dong-won (Kim Tae-woo) and his wife, Dr Kim In-Young (Kim Bo-kyung) who have been transferred from Tokyo. When a series of murders occur near their home, Dr Kim starts to worry about his wife's disappearances in the middle of the night.

HITS & MISSES: One of the lofty aims of the Jung Brothers, as proclaimed in their production notes, is to change the definition of the horror genre in Korea, helping it to evolve from the basic scream fest to a realm beyond curses and vindictive ghosts. However, they miss the point that audiences watch horror thrillers to get scared, not to applaud and extol the directors. In one part of the movie, a doctor has a vision of the four seasons represented by cherry blossoms, water lilies, the fallen leaves of autumn, and snow covered mountains. This is supposed to symbolise the marriage of his soul to that of his intended love, but viewers would be hard put to make that connection. The sequence is just a series of beautiful sets, period.

Of course, with the three stories being unravelled at the same time, we get the usual frights accompanied by screechy music, as well as sudden sightings of gory, bloodied faces of ghosts. However, without an engaging story, these scares lose their impact considerably. The numerous and repetitive flashbacks, nightmare sequences and recollections only add up to a messy narrative that can be infuriating at times. This is a pity, really, for the performances, camerawork and location sets are all top-notch.

THE LOWDOWN: Dare we hope that the Brothers Jung learn from this experience and improve their storytelling the next time?


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