It would be worse only with subtitles

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It would be worse only with subtitles

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Note: Hoping to do more coverage of Korean movies, this week we sent our reviewer to see “Arang.” Unfortunately, Mr. Applegate is still in the process of learning Korean and this movie had no subtitles, but as it was a horror movie, we figured ― correctly ― that incomprehensible dialogue would be no impediment to his understanding of the plot. -Ed.

Summer has rolled around, and to Koreans (and everybody else), that means lame horror movies. If you’re an unfortunate foreigner, you may find yourself sitting through one of these. If you’re somewhat more fortunate, you’ll have a boyfriend or girlfriend drag you to one. Me? I was unfortunate.
The best piece of advice I can offer someone who needs to get through one of these films is: Find ways to focus. Without subtitles, movies that are bad to begin with become rigorous exercises in patience.
Scientists should start testing whether a person can make it through one of these generic ghost flicks without nodding off or mocking the characters or tossing paper airplanes at the screen (as I did). Lucky for them, such a test already exists, and its title is “Arang.”
All I can say is: Stay optimistic. Believe that the movie can get better even if all evidence is against it. For instance, in “Arang,” two typical Asian ghosts ― the kind with the white faces, the “scary” red eyes and the fake blood everywhere ― take revenge on the group of men who wronged them while they were alive. How do the ghosts kill their prey? Well, we never really know, because the camera cuts away just before the critical moment.
It’s true, though: Sometimes it’s scarier not to show something gory than to actually show it. Especially if you’re bad at making movies.
But “Arang” is triple the cliche for your 5,000 won ($5). Not only do you get the vengeful ghost, but there’s also a creepy technology angle ― the ghost sends its victims e-mail messages with lame Flash animations. The cop investigating the mysterious deaths (you'd think Seoul police would catch on to the fact that ghosts kill large numbers of people every summer) is a “spunky” policewoman with a crunchy outside, but a soft, gooey center. She’s even got the sweaty, rope-jumping, bag-punching exercise montage (and recurring nightmares) to prove it.
If alcohol were allowed in Seoul cinemas, I would suggest a drinking game ― one shot for every time the bloody contact lens is supposed to be scary ― but alas, it isn’t, and in my experience using caffeinated beverages in this fashion was counterproductive.
One must instead rely on sheer willpower. Sit on the edge of your seat and try to be enthralled. Note the many “homages” to every other Asian horror film ever made: the opening scene set on a dark and stormy night, the cop with a dark past, the skeletons in the closet (or in this case under a pile of salt). Remark upon the courage of the ghosts’ victims, who, after catching a glimpse of a bloody dead woman coming to kill them in a mirror or camera lens, are only momentarily concerned before they go back to what they were doing. I would have flipped out and run away, thus perhaps preventing my own death, but hey ― you gotta be you.


by Ben Applegate
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