A box office success in its native land, this ambitious South Korean horror
thriller offers a diverting blend of Western religious horror protocol
and Eastern action and fantasy conventions. The mass suicide of a pagan
cult leaves only six survivors (who defied their leader's death order),
one of whom is pregnant. The woman dies soon after she is discovered by
police but doctors are able to extract a baby girl from her womb. The
film picks up 20 years later, with the now-adult Seung-hee (SAY YES' Chu
Sang-mi) working as a garage mechanic and suffering a near fatal accident
when the hoist holding up the car she is repairing gives way. One evening,
the girl is startled by Hyun-am (BICHUNMOO's Shin Hyun-joon), a fallen
Catholic priest, who was shot by police after he crushed a man with a
bulldozer. In actuality, Hyun-am was trying to save the victim, who was
the last of the five survivors, each of whom have come to violent ends.
Another defrocked priest, Park Yoon-kyu (formerly a doctor, and the one
who delivered Seung-hee that night two decades ago) utilizes medical science
to battle evil, while his associate, a gifted little boy named June-hu
(Oh Hyun-chul), boasts supernatural powers in the Taoist vein. The two
priests have discovered that the legions of Hell are behind the killings
and, when June-hu is taken prisoner by demons, the truth becomes clear:
Satan wishes to reincarnate through the virginal Seung-hee, whose soul
possesses an unusual purity. Attempts by Hyun-am and Yoon-kyu (MUSA's
Ahn Sung-kei) to save Seung-hee and June-hu are inadvertently hindered
by a misguided police officer, who believes them to be mass murderers.
First-time director Park Kwang-chun (a graduate of NYU Film School) displays
a tendency to fall back on music video artifice, complete with the heavy use
of rain for atmosphere and the seemingly requisite shot showing shafts of
light beaming through a rotating fan. In this case, at least, the stylization
rarely seems blatantly out of place and Park is able to achieve an agreeable
balance between the visual shock devices prevalent in contemporary horror
and some good old-fashioned suspense techniques. As with several South Korean
productions from recent years, the film is very impressive from a technical
standpoint, with only some middling CGI FX (mainly explosions and the depiction
of Hyun-am's weapon, a magical flying dagger that carries within it the soul
of his late sister) detracting slightly. The story offers some interesting
parallels to THE EXORCIST but a plot thread inspired by THE TERMINATOR (Hyun-am
battles a hulking, seemingly indestructible minion that stalks Seung-hee,
with the creature inadvertently killing her friend, Yoo-mi, and the latter's
beau, when they make the mistake of using Seung-hee's apartment for a sexual
encounter) seems out of place, and a couple of transitions are awkward. In
contrast to most Western features, not everything is spelled out, but the
viewer still readily accepts the heroes' heightened abilities in precisely
the same way that we can buy in to the notion of an all-powerful being like
Satan having to emulate humans to attain its objectives.
Cover art courtesy Winson.
|Winson #WDV 1002T (Hong Kong
Dolby Digital 2.0
Sync Sound Korean Language Track
Optional Subtitles In English and Chinese (Traditional
12 Chapters Illustrated In the Menu With (Tiny) Clips
Coded for ALL Regions
Contains moderate violence and horror, and brief nudity
menu courtesy Winson.
BOARD RATINGS AND CONSUMER ADVICE
Hong Kong: IIB
Winson Entertainment DVDs tend to fluctuate
wildly in quality but this is one of the company's best efforts to date. Park
utilizes a number of different color and lighting schemes and the presentation
handles them well. The image is a bit hazy and grainy, and blacks are not
as deep as they might be, but one's overall impression is favorable. There
is no video matte on the transfer, so a handful of bright flashes bleed over
the upper matte, though this is just a momentary distraction. The stereo mix
is appropriately powerful and effectively delivers the intended jolts (the
end credits carry the DTS logo but, alas, there is no DTS or Dolby Digital
5.1 option here); the right channel cuts out for a few seconds early on. The
menu is only in Chinese: the left button provides a look at the 12 chapters,
the middle button starts the feature, and the option on the right is for choosing
the subtitles (English is the third one). A drawback with this release is
that some brief instances of nudity have been cut, though it is not clear
whether this was done by the original Korean distributor or by its HK counterpart,
for classification purposes. Oddly, the eliminations involve only the actresses,
with male nudity left intact. There are no extras.
THE SOUL GUARDIANS is
available at Poker Industries.
problems printing this review with Netscape?
Go to the File option in the Netscape
Task Bar, click the Page Setup from
the sub-menu and make sure that in the Page Options
listings, the Black Text box is clicked.
This should resolve the "no text" printing problem.
here for more information about The Hong Kong Filmography
© John Charles 2000 - 2002. All Rights Reserved.