Might I first say that in the spirit of reveling in the self-contradictions of others, I'm flattered at the way certain users have tried to emulate my synopses blog theme.
The bonus comes when not-so-new titles of a favorite genre I've suggested in blogs long ago are now being summarized (albeit poorly) by those who actually claimed they were crap, and now witlessly blog on how great the films were, seeing as how they've only just viewed them for the first time a day ago.
My point to an entertaining synopsis piece is remembering two things: A, that good classics are nice to blog on, so long as you keep in mind they've probably been viewed, with the blog serving as more of a comedic nostalgia trip to trigger forgotten times.
B, for newer films just a few years old, a review or synopsis can only be riveting and pivotal so long as the title is one undoubtedly widely overlooked - and isn't a (misspelled) stand-out classic readers and genre fans are more than acquainted with...
Which brings me to today's special edition of FFS, featuring one of the films listed in my previous blog regarding a few favorite titles from the countries of the Far East.
Another one not so ancient, but still obscure enough even to fans of the genre, not to mention Western audiences on the whole. If you enjoyed Pan's Labyrinth or Mirrormask, then you'd be crazy to pass this one up.
The only thing you need to say about this film is it's simply exemplary of the best cinematography, acting, soundtrack, and set work, the likes of which you could only expect in one out of a hundred movies.
Just when you'd think you could never take another one of those generic, assembly-line demonic kid ideas, a film like this comes along that flips tired and overdone standards on the premise right on its ass, with nothing short of masterful production, and a story too beautiful and tragic not to be given the proper credence - that is the South Korean-made, uber-deep, twisted fairy-tale take, Hansel & Gretel (Henjel gwa Geuretel).
Eun-soo (Jeong-myeong Cheon) is busy having a heavy discussion with his pregnant girlfriend while driving, which inevitably results in him paying less attention to the rain-slicked roads, causing his car to flip.
Disoriented and wandering through the woods in this backwater area, he awakes at night, to a red-caped little girl holding a lantern casting an eerie light in the darkness. Her name is Kim Young-hee (Eun-kyung Shim), and she leads him to a clearing where a quaint little gingerbread-esque cottage stands, labeled the "Home of Happy Children".
Eun-soo is immediately taken in by the girl's family, including a 12-year old brother Man-bok (Eun Won-jae), and 7-year old sister Jung-soon, where he's given bunny slippers like all the rest of them wear, and sits among the brightly-dressed group in a living area more akin to Pee-Wee's Playhouse than a normal abode.
He asks to use the phone, but the Dad claims it was disconnected several days ago, and despite his seemingly cheery facade, the man displays obvious signs of pent-up stress and nervousness. It appears as though for now, Eun-soo is stuck having to spend the night.
Rattled awake by a multitude of tinker toys and Christmas decorations, he attempts to use his cell but finds no service. He heads downstairs to an unorthodox "breakfast" consisting of cupcakes, candies, and cookies, complete with birthday candles just for fun.
Eun-soo asks about the phones again, but gets the same response as the night before. He explains he must be on his way, as when he crashed, he was headed for a visit to his ailing mother, but for some reason the kids don't understand. Eun-soo assures them that it isn't too big a deal, since he and his mother were never close, but suddenly Man-bok becomes enraged, reprimanding Eun-soo on how nice it's supposed to be to have a mother.
Creeped out, Eun-soo decides to walk it, but no sooner is he out the door that he finds himself instantly lost in a seemingly endless jungle of leaves. He returns to the cottage, where the parents make lame excuses as to why it's so easy to get lost, and Eun-soo settles in with them for another overnight.
He hears the parents arguing during the night, with the Mom complaining she can't possibly stay in the house any longer. The children seem to take nicely to Eun-soo, including the wary Man-bok, though he asks his guest strange questions as to why he would be so nice to them, seeing as how he isn't their father.
The next morning, Eun-soo awakes to a commotion. He goes downstairs to find the kids crying hysterically, along with a note from the parents stating they had to leave for urgent business, and Eun-soo needs to take care of the kids.
As he goes frantic, Man-bok seems insistent on the probing questions as to whether or not Eun-soo is going to leave them. The three kids share a creepy laugh over the notion that the longer someone tries to find a way out through the woods, the deeper they get.
Alone to contemplate, and perplexed as to why the TV is unplugged yet plays the same cartoon or Christmas programs on every channel, Eun-soo hears strange noises from the attic above, and finds a door leading up, where somebody makes a sudden appearance, freaking him out. Man-bok claims there's nothing, and accompanies Eun-soo to the attic to show him. It's there they find no trace of anyone, and Man-bok presents Eun-soo with a map he claims will get him out of the forest, since he seemed to miss his mother so much.
Venturing out, sudden snowfall and literally shifting forest completely thwart his attempts at escape, until he bumps into a couple out of nowhere. Like him, their car had broken down due to the weather, and claim Man-bok had found them and wishes to lead them to his house.
Eun-soo hurriedly warns them to go back the way they came, but it's too late. They're stuck with him in the maze of a forest, and the three have no choice but to let Man-bok lead them back to the now dreaded cottage.
The couple are a Reverend from a Christian church and his wife, who at first seem kind enough, until the wife gets rough with the little girl and takes to snooping around the house looking for goodies to steal, while her husband seems to have a growing inappropriate affection for Young-hee...
Eun-soo decides to try searching the attic again, and finally comes across the individual he was certain was hiding there... none other than the Mom herself, haggard and petrified.
She explains they aren't the childrens' real parents, just some poor saps that likewise, got broken down on the road and led to the cottage by the children, where escape was impossible. They took Eun-soo's arrival as the opportunity to escape, but not only still became lost in the forest, but got separated. Now her husband is missing and she's been stuck in the attic, which to her, stretches out in an unending maze same as the forest outside.
Coming downstairs, Eun-soo is just in time to prevent the new woman from beating the hell out of little Jung-soon, as she seems to be missing her precious ring and believes the kids to have stolen it. Man-bok telekinetically forces the chandelier down on her, where it's only at Eun-soo's insistence that he doesn't kill her. She heads outside to demand of her husband that they leave, but the man seems staunch in riding their little visit out for some reason.
Hearing the sounds of the woman stomping around upstairs, Man-bok colors a bloody picture with his sisters in his room, and by the time Eun-soo returns to the attic to continue his conversation with Mom, he finds the new woman lying dead on the floor, her flesh having inexplicably turned to porcelain.
Heading outside to catch his breath, Eun-soo is joined by the girls, where they ask him to tell them a story. He complies, spinning a tale about a Prince escaping from a horrible man and meeting a Princess in a nearby kingdom, which is a thinly-veiled parallel to recent events in his own life. As he wows the sisters, they bring their dolls alive, where they fly and flutter around the yard, as the girls insist they are the fairies from Eun-soo's story, and now that he's arrived to their kingdom, he can live happily ever after with them, receiving everything he'll ever want, thanks to the power of imagination.
Man-bok joins them mid-way, instantly recognizing the story for its irony. He sternly plays along, inserting threats of harm to Eun-soo should he, as the new Prince of their kingdom, think of running away.
Beginning to grasp the intensity of his predicament, Eun-soo locates the Reverend, taking him up to the attic in order to show him the corpse of his wife. No trace remains, with a stuffed bunny having taken her place. They find a box filled with expensive trinkets and accessories, no doubt the fine remnants of who knows how many doomed visitors that have gotten lost in the forest over the years.
Eun-soo tries to delicately clue the husband in, but surprisingly, it seems as though the man has been well-aware of what the children are all along. He reveals to Eun-soo that as a holy man, it may be his place to reign the magical cottage kingdom as Deacon, with creepy words that chill Eun-soo enough to feel he must protect the kids from this deranged man.
He warns them not to listen to him, but suddenly they seem unconcerned with Eun-soo, preferring instead to watch the husband perform cheap magic tricks and call them angels.
Eun-soo takes a break in order to get some much-needed food, and when he opens the refrigerator, he's horrified to discover a fresh lump of meat covered with the loud shirt the Dad had been wearing before he disappeared, which seems to be same lump of meat the daughters used to make their stew the night before...
Remembering the youngest girl's earlier comical suggestion, Eun-soo takes bread with him as he races off into the forest, leaving a trail of crumbs behind him. Reaching a small clearing, he sees Man-bok, entering a door stuck straight up in the middle of the area, disappearing into an invisible room.
Watching him leave moments later, Eun-soo approaches the door, and enters to find a dingy storage space. Quite a contrast to the rest of the bright house, he finds hundreds of cobweb-covered picture books, filled with drawings and stories regarding the former visitors to their cottage, including one involving a former "Mom and Dad" that began beating on each other, prompting Man-bok to threaten the Dad with mind-control harm and turn the Mom into a doll for his sister.
Young-hee then arrives at the hidden room, speaking solemnly to Eun-soo about the powers the magical room has granted them, before revealing her face as decrepit and aged.
Before leaving, Eun-soo also finds a yellowed photograph and legal documents, showing that the children were born in the early 50's. Hearing screams, he races back to the house. Apparently, the Reverend has gone completely mad, revealing that he had killed his father before tying up the youngest daughter and using a switchblade to slice into Man-bok.
Eun-soo pleads with Man-bok not to cause any more harm, though the boy argues that all adults are horrible and need punishment, much like the old witch in their Hansel & Gretel book, the one item Man-bok guards with his life.
It is then that Eun-soo hears the real story of who the children are. We then get a difficult and harrowing flashback scene explaining it all.
Long ago, the Home of Happy Children was an orphanage, in which the three kids, along with a few others, were held more like prisoners than happy children. A sadistic, masked caretaker kept the boys locked in a storage room, littered with insects and feces, opening the door only to slide in bowls of porridge and give harsh beatings. Random dead and emaciated bodies would lie in the same room on many days.
The two girls were molested on a nearly daily basis, and Young-hee made it her duty to ensure the Father chose her over the little girl as often as possible. Often the three children would witness their Father beating sick and dying orphans with a beam in the yard, and when alone at holidays, would talk about Santa Claus and whether or not he'd arrive that year to grant their wishes.
And one year, Santa did show up. A woman working with some charity organization had arrived at the orphanage with a guy hired to dress as Santa Claus and give gifts to the children. Man-bok, Young-hee, and Jung-soon were the only three deemed well enough for the Father to let out of their rooms, and needless to say, were simply enchanted by the presence of the jolly fat man in his bright and wonderful costume, savored the delicious treats he fed them, and cherished the new Hansel & Gretel storybook he had gifted Man-bok.
That night, the kids sneaked out of their room, and undid the latch on the space containing the last of the other boys. They wanted to share with him all the goodies Santa had brought them, yet it didn't take long for the elder kids to realize Jung-soon was feeding candy to an already dead child.
Found by the Father, Man-bok exclaims that thanks to Santa, all their wishes can come true at Christmastime, and so, with the fury of all three childrens' emotions, he's pushed into the oven to his fiery death, same as the witch from their beloved storybook.
And likewise in the present time, a flurry of objects and the force of the kids' power of emotion kill the Reverend on the spot, leaving Eun-soo to emit tearful apologies for all the horrors the poor children have had to endure.
He wishes to break their endless curse by taking them away with him to the real world, but unfortunately, still extremely wary of facing other adults, Man-bok refuses, as the extent of their powers and eternal youth exist only within this warp of time and space.
Feeling compassion for the genuinely distraught Eun-soo, Young-hee whispers to him that the only way to ever leave the dimension alive is to burn his story from their notebook.
Against the tearful denials of Man-bok but the honest well wishes from the girls, Eun-soo immediately destroys the memories of his visit to the cottage, leaving the poor, sad children in a haze of smoke to awaken on the same roadside he had previously crashed on.
Some time has now passed, and Eun-soo is tucking his wife and new son into bed at Christmastime, where he stands by the window next to the decorated tree and finds his mind wandering to the fate of the lonely and unloved orphans.
It is then Eun-soo comes across a strange and out of place notebook lying underneath the Christmas tree. Flipping through its pages, he finds a single drawing - the children, all three of them, slightly grown and happy, with Man-bok sporting a shirt and tie, Young-hee blossoming into a lovely lady, and Jung-soon happy and waving.
Outside, joining hands in the falling snow as they walk away, are the children. Having broken the curse by venturing away from their world and into the real one, they part for a new destiny, secure in the knowledge that as long as somebody loves them, they may finally be ready to live out their days with hope in a bright and promising life.
And for the hundredth time since first viewing this film, I bawled.
film (c) 2007 Barunson Film Division, Cineclick Asia