Written by: jay_wigger
Seriously, what is it with these Asian filmmakers and their long-haired ghost girls? Having this thought go through your head after the opening scene of Arang is totally acceptable and understandable, but give the film a chance and you'll see that it's more than just your typical Korean horror movie.
Sure, co-writer and first-time director Ahn Sang Hoon borrows plenty of elements from past Asian horror films like Shutter , Ju-On, and Ringu, including our ever-present friend the long-haired ghost girl who's out for revenge, but adding a younger ghost to make it a mother-daughter team and telling the story from the perspective of a couple of violent-crimes detectives gives Arang at least some form of freshness. So-Young (Soun Yoon Ah, Face, Jail Brakers) is a detective with an agenda of her own who gets teamed up with rookie Hyun-Ki (newcomer Lee Dong-Wook) to investigate a series of bizarre murders where the victims seem to have been killed by an acid eating them from within. Of course, as viewers of the film, we get to see these victims in their final moments and know what really got to them. Or do we? Before long, the detectives manage to figure out that the victims have something in common: they all had a hand in a killing that occured ten years ago in a rural salt house, and it seems that now something from beyond is out to get them. Of course, there's a twist in the final minutes of the film that makes it more than your typical ghost story. It's nice to see the now-traditional (read: increasingly unoriginal) Asian ghost story getting an original twist of its own that turns Arang into more of a character-driven murder mystery than a straight-on horror story.
The score from music director Jung Dong In is light and muted, making it eerily effective. And while the fright moments in the film have mostly all been done before, Ahn Sang Hoon shows a talent for getting great shots out of his camera; like most Korean horror films, the cinematography is brilliant. The acting is solid, especially from the two leads. One big problem, though, is the over-the-top intuitiveness of So-Young. At one point, grasping onto something her partner says about something being hidden inside, she decides to dig up the dead dog belonging to one of the victims and cut him open to find a particularly important clue. She's almost like Lieutenant Horatio Caine on 'CSI: Miami', but while David Caruso can get away with it due to the high level of camp he plays the part with (at least I hope that's the case), it's a little harder to believe coming from a serious film like Arang.
The DVD: Tartan Video once again delivers a beautiful transfer that's aurally spectacular, particularly in DTS Surround. They've also included a nice amount of bonus features, most of which are excellent. The only two missteps are the Interview With Cast featurette, consisting only of short interviews with Song Yoon Ah and Lee Dong Wook, and a Deleted Scenes featurette which has plenty of scenes, but no explanation as to why they were left out. Usually when there's no commentary track accompanying the deleted scenes it's pretty obvious why they were excised from the finished product, but in the case of Arang, the audience is left to wonder why these scenes didn't make the cut, especially a scene that was spookier than any of the ones left in the film. But these are minor gripes about an otherwise excellent package. Even though Tartan is out of business, if you can find this one, it's a nice addition to any Asian cinephile's collection.
Final Thoughts: Of all the long-haired ghost girl Asian films populating my DVD shelf, Arang is definitely one of the more interesting and fresh, if not entirely original, entries into the subgenre. If a friend were to mention to me, "You know, I'm in the mood for a good movie with a long-haired ghost girl scaring the crap out of people," I'd lend him Arang. Yeah, it's over the top and the ending leaves a huge question unanswered, but the idea of following the police as they investigate these strange deaths instead of seeing it solely through the eyes of one or more of the victims is enough to make it a cut above.