I have a list of “Top Ten Scariest Asian Movies” on IMDB. Cinderella (2006, directed by Man-dae Bong), may have been the weakest in my list; then I saw the skin-crawling Thai movie Coming Soon and decided it had earned a place. So I ended up bumping Cinderella, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to give this creepy Korean thriller its props. If you love K-Horror, this deserves a look. Yes, it has one or two elements that appear frequently in other Asian horror movies; the lead character finding out a horrible secret, a couple scary-ass ‘ghost girls’ that move/crab-crawl in a creepily unnatural manner, their long wet hair covering the dead white faces. In all fairness, I should point out that except in some extreme cases, I personally never get tired of this formula and the common images. Never gets any less scary, I cringe every time I get the feeling one is about to pop out or swoop down. If I’m watching them after dark with all the lights off, sometimes I chicken out and hit ‘mute’ (but many times, still find myself sinking lower and lower, and in a couple of cases, peeking out from behind a pillow) . If you’re just completely goddamned sick of them and want something brand-new, perhaps you should give this one a pass. Either way, I advise watching the trailer for a good idea of the tone and art direction in the movie; there are few spoilers, which we horror fans always appreciate in a trailer.
[30+ minutes of fruitless searching. on my Macbook Pro later] Guess what? I couldn’t find one subtitled in English! I had one carefully set away for this post, stored in more than one place, then boom, gone from my playlist. Well, this way you’ll really be going in clean. Here’s. the poster art, thanks to our friends at Tartan Asia Extreme…
I gave Cinderella seven out of ten stars rather than the nine to ten stars I traditionally give to perfect, borderline-soiling-yourself-in-utter-terror Asian horror masterpieces such as Shutter and Shimizu’s Ju-on series. Cinderella begins with a hauntingly memorable pre-credits sequence. A dreamy image of slender candles being carefully lit on a child’s birthday cake; in the darkness, all you can see are what the warm candlelight reveals-a pair of female hands and the decorated cake. We see the hands gracefully lifting the cake and carrying it down a corridor, so dark that the cake nearly appears to be gently floating to its destination all on its own. Birthday candles on a cake, that’s a familiar, comforting, memory, right? The lilting music-box playing is… oh, I can’t do it justice right now, so just check out this teaser trailer (no English subtitles, but you’ll get the idea):
…and the fairy-tale spell is jarringly broken. That’s the kind of punch this movie is capable of packing. Some parts, especially the first act, suffer from pacing issues, dragging down the film (and viewer a bit). But get ready for the last act-it grabs your ankle like a cold
hand from under your bed. Through flashbacks, there’s a pretty classic, even Gothic, sick back story that stuck with me. There’s a couple hints, but it turns out to be way uglier (no pun intended-if you’ve seen the movie you’ll get the unintentional play on words) than anyone imagined. I also actually started talking back to the flat screen TV a couple times (if I’d seen it in a theater and said the same things at that volume, I would have been asked by an usher to calm down). I’ve noticed that South Korean chillers like “A Tale of Two Sisters” or Korean crime-revenge thrillers like “I Saw the Devil” and “Memories of Murder” consistently get me so hooked in that (more than once) I almost blew off a deadline because I HAD to know what happened.
I saw that many reviewers cited the movie for being ‘too melodramatic’ and ‘more like some soap opera’. I can see a base argument ( I guess) for ‘melodramatic’ ; fair enough, I suppose (though I personally don’t agree-how calm would you be if you walked in a room just as your daughter hanged herself –on her birthday?). However, a SOAP? Jesus, if so, I’d like to ask what the hell kind of fucked-up soaps YOU’VE been watching?* Do they include images of someone trying to slice their own face into gory ribbons? The only thing on TV right now that is a ‘horror-drama’ and would even come close to this claim is American Horror Story. Actually, if you’re a big fan of the show AHS –like I am–you’ll probably enjoy this movie. I ended up giving it 7/10 rather than 10/10 for the following reasons: the lead character’s (who has at least graduated high school) mother doesn’t look a day over thirty. Tops. I know Asian women usually look fantastic for their age (Bai Ling was born in, I think, 1966 and still doesn’t have one line on her face) but here it’s sort of distracting (and kind of creepy if you do the math). The film suffered from some pacing issues as I mentioned above–it could have been tightened up by removing 10 minutes or so. Finally, the ending is too close to one of those, “uh…YOU decide how it ended!” types. With pretty solid storytelling throughout, it was slightly irritating to not have at least one major character’s fate resolved, instead of having the narrative just sort of flap away on slow wings. Yeah, Cinderella is no Tale of Two Sisters or The Eye (then again, nothing is) but if you’re looking for some Korean-style genre scares and a twist or two you didn’t see coming, there’s much worse ways (and much worse movies to watch, trust me) to spend 100 minutes. As long as you weren’t really planning on sleeping like a log that night…
*Well, Nip/Tuck did get messed up enough to have sponsors pull advertising towards the end, but that’d probably fall under FX Drama, not ‘night-time soap’. Oh hey–AHS is from the creators of Nip/Tuck. Suddenly, now it makes sense. I can’t believe I didn’t make the connection until now. I have a piece I wrote coming up called, “Ten F-cked Up Things That Happen on Nip/Tuck”, and it practically wrote itself, it could easily be twenty and I wouldn’t have to shake the tree at all.
- The New Breed of Korean Actors (mrmovietimes.com)