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Issue #123 HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES September 3rd, 2002

The Soul Guardians
(1998; Polyvision)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Korean: Toemarok

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.

Chu Sang-mi. Image courtesy Winson.

Ahn Sung-kei. Image courtesy Winson.

Oh Hyun-chul. Image courtesy Winson.

Winson #WDV 1002T (Hong Kong label)

Dolby Digital 2.0

Sync Sound Korean Language Track

Optional Subtitles In English and Chinese (Traditional or Simplified)

12 Chapters Illustrated In the Menu With (Tiny) Clips

Letterboxed (1.69:1)

Coded for ALL Regions

97 Minutes

Contains moderate violence and horror, and brief nudity

DVD menu courtesy Winson.

Hong Kong: IIB
Singapore: RA


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.

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