Up next is the second film that somehow I missed first time around, although in this case it was more I got the film at a time other things were going on, and it just dropped down to the bottom of the pile. However, I had heard good things about the Korean Horror/Fantasy, so I had high hopes when snuggling down on a cold Winters Afternoon to watch it.
“Hansel and Gretel” takes us on a journey with Eun-soo (Cheon Jeong-myeong), a young man driving around for work, while his girlfriend is pregnant at home. A car accident leaves him stranded in the woods, where he comes upon a young girl. She takes him back to her house, to meet her younger sister and older brother, and her doting parents. He soon realises all is not well – these are children to which every whim is met (big platters of cakes for breakfast anyone?), and his attempts to be assisted to get to the nearest village are ignored. Then the parents run off, asking him to stay in charge. Not to worry though, as the son brings home another couple, a preacher and his rather catty wife. Eun-soo keeps trying to escape, but eventually realises things are even stranger than he could have ever expected, leading to a psychological story of abuse, lost childhood and a storybook you just don’t want to be a part of.
The film is utterly gorgeous. The colour palette is bright and hyper-real, and in terms of set design, the whole thing is designed beautifully. It has that bright glare that only childhood memories can have, and your eye is constantly drawn to new detail, with the occasional curve ball thrown in to just put you off kilter. Surreal is the order of the day, yet it never quite goes too far.
The story is a fascinating one, playing with the themes of abandonment and abuse from the original fairy tale, but aside from that, it is no retelling of Gingerbread Houses and wicked Cannibal Witches. There are subtle hints of trails of breadcrumbs, but this film does not really take its cue from there, rather a couple of Twilight Zone Episodes, to say much more would spoil things. There are some wonderful ideas though, such as a never ending attic, a women turned into a tree, and another who becomes a doll. But is never quite moves from the realms of disturbing and creepy into that of outright horror.
Whilst I enjoyed the film, it does have problems. Part of me thinks it maybe tries a little too hard to be “A Tale of Two Sisters”, and whilst visually it is nearly on a par, it never quite is able to compete in terms of acting, mood and just that lingering feeling of something unsettling going on. The eventual back-story takes up too much of the final third of the film, and is frankly just not as interesting as what went before. The Preacher character, although suitably creepy, just mirrors something from the past, and feels a little too convenient. Most frustratingly, our main protagonist, Eun-soo, is really little more than a cipher – I never really found out who he was, and what he was learning from the experience. There are hints that maybe all is not well between him and his pregnant girlfriend, but they seem unimportant and are forgotten once the film reaches its conclusion. He is just a nice guy in a strange place.
There is a lot here to enjoy, and certain images will stick with you for a long time. I think it is a film full of great ideas, and visually I have rarely seen better. But it lacks something in terms of emotional connection with our characters – even though the underlying events are potentially heart breaking, and the themes of destroyed childhood and parental abandonment are strong, you lack a real emotional attachment with anyone, which means you never quite care enough about what is going on. So it is Recommended, but its not quite hitting the heights of really great Korean Cinema.