Hansel and Gretel aka Henjel gwa Geuretel (2007): South Korean Grimm Tale

Directed and co-written by Pil-Sung Yim, Hansel & Gretel is a South Korean masterpiece that uses a Brothers Grimm palette to paint a dark fantasy/horror film.

Driving through a mountainous area by a forest, Eun-Soo (Jeong-myeong Cheon) is on the phone arguing with his pregnant girlfriend about his decision to see his sick mother. In mid-argument his car crashes. Injured and in shock, Eun-Soo stumbles into the forest and gets hopelessly lost.

As night falls, he stumbles across a young girl holding a lantern. She is Young Hee (Eun-kyung Shim) and she leads Eun-Soo to a fairytale cottage deep in the woods. Once there, he meets her “family.” Older brother Manbok (Eun Won-jae), little sister Jung Soon (Ji-hee Jin) and their “parents” all welcome Eun-Soo to the house.

As he is still in shock from the accident Eun-Soo does not notice the strained atmosphere in the house. But we do. The parents are too eager, too ready to please and the children are disconcerting. After offers of help, Eun-Soo is treated to a children’s version of a meal; all sweets and pastries and ice cream.

Eun-Soo will soon discover that all is not what it seems and after the parents disappear, he discovers that the children are not what they appear to be and that a new arrival to the “house of happy children” may kill them all.

Gingerbread house.
Gingerbread house.

Pil-Sung has done a brilliant job with this film. The European fairytale theme is omnipresent in the film. The paintings on the wall, the furniture, the colours of the house and its many rooms all scream Brothers Grimm, including the very house itself. The location of the house and its secrets are in the deepest part of the forest and like the original Hansel and Gretel, each time Eun-Soo tries to find his way out he gets lost. This prompts Young Hee to tell him that he needs to place bread crumbs on his trail.

The music is evocative of the darkest fairy tale imaginable; it is vaguely reminiscent of a Danny Elfman score in places and overall sets the mood of the action brilliantly. The mixture of the music and the story can put you instantly in the emotional mood of the scenes. Eerie, sad, forlorn, scary,  and magical, the score fits perfectly.

The young actors playing the children are beyond brilliant. They convey the longing for real parents to love them and protect them. The children can then “turn” and be damned scary and creepy when it looks like they won’t get their most heartfelt wish. Eun-Soo grows up while he is with the children and his ordeal makes him realize what is really important in his life.

Later in the film when the children lure another couple to the house, Byun (Hee-soon Park) and his not very pleasant wife. Byun says that he is a man of the cloth, in reality he is a twisted and sick child murderer; his wife is never explained, but it doesn’t matter as she does not last long in the house and is one nasty bit of work. Hee-soon Park is terrifying as the serial killer who is so incredibly dark and scary.

Deacon Byun and his nasty wife.

This film is unforgettable and is easily one of the best  to come out of South Korea. The imagery and  the back story of the children, added to the confusion of what is really going on make a scary, disturbing thriller and yet it tugs at the heart-strings while arousing feelings of anger and pain for what is going on and what happened in the past.

Amazingly this film was panned in South Korea as being “too European.” While that is somewhat puzzling, the film is brilliant and I have a copy in my collection that is watched often.

Every once in a while, I find a film that defies any sort of star rating system. Hansel and Gretel is one of those films. If you do not watch any other film from South Korea, make sure that you watch this one. It terms of greatness it rivals Kim Jee-Woon‘s A Tale of Two Sisters.

Hansel and Gretel will stay with you long after you have seen it and if you can watch the ending of the film and not have at least a lump in your throat the size of Texas, something is wrong.

Manbok and the secret door.

This Week at the Movies, Yawn…

Okay.You can call me old, jaded, and down-right hard to impress, but… Looking at the selection of movies that IMDb is offering up on their homepage is pretty depressing.

Not to mention unimpressive.

First on the list of “Wait till you see this” is A Good Day to Die Hard. Now I will stand right up and say that, “Yes, I am a Bruce Willis fan-boy.” Since I first saw the guy in Moonlighting back in the day, I’ve been a devout fan. Hell, I even liked Hudson Hawk!

But Die Hard 5??

Come on!

Okay, it looks like we get to see the ever delectable, not to mention talented, Mary Elizabeth Winstead again as she reprises her role as John McClane‘s daughter. But seriously? What the hell is going on?

Is this Hollywoods answer to allegations of plagiarizing superior foreign films into homogenized and pasteurized remakes? It’s like the studios are saying, “See? We can do original films!”

Sorry guys, but another addition of an existing franchise aka sequel spawning series, is not original.  And can someone explain why “American as apple pie and three times as hard” John McClane is having to fight in Russia? Is it now in poor taste for him to fight terrorists in the USA? Or have we run out of cities that the great movie watching public care about?

Die Hard 4 aka Die Harder was the first time we got to see John as a father and ex-husband and (gasp) old guy. The film spent far too much time on the younger members of the cast and the “joke” of the “old guy” showing the youngsters how it was done pretty much got old after McClane took out the helicopter with a car.

I think we can assume (and yes, I know that makes an ass of u and me) that this latest version of McClane and family will be more of the same. My reaction? YAWN.

The second film being touted on page one is Iron Man 3. Robert Downey Jr’s latest offering as Tony Stark. The trailer looks interesting, but…was it all that long ago that we had Iron Man 2?  We won’t even mention Tony Stark’s appearance in Avengers Assemble. It’s another case of “let’s make more money while the audiences are still fresh from being impressed by the Avengers movie.

Okay, not quite as irritating as Die Hard 5, but it’s damn close.

Last on my list of yawn inducing movies is Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters. And yes, I know it’s not on the home page of IMDb but I had to list it. I had to!

I could easily waste about a thousand words on the myriad of things wrong with this film. But I won’t. what I will do is ask that you watch the trailer and see if you have the same reaction to it that I did.

Now I won’t mention the fact that this is supposedly taking place in The Brother’s Grimm country (which was another so-so film about “real” fairy tales and the destruction of them) and that the two main protagonists are both speaking in broad American accents (one naturally and one, not so naturally) and that the weapons they use don’t fit into the fairy tale time period.

I won’t even mention that this is yet another variation of the “bad-ass” good guy wasting a villain with the obligatory wisecrack by said good guy or his companion.

What I will say, is that the film seems to have been aimed for the young teen market. Yet, the trailer is recommended for mature audiences. What the fudge?

I might find all the over-the-top blood and gore and the other CG created effects entertaining if I were about 12 years old, 13 at a stretch. But now? Uh, that would be a no.

I like movies that are escapist in nature. I always have. But come on guys, let’s try a little harder next time.

All right?