Horror in Disguise

in 26th Busan International Film Festival

by Hsin Wang

The Busan international Film Festival is famous for discovering new Asian directors. Only the first two works of Asian directors are eligible for the competition. Busan is considered to be an important award for emerging Asian directors.

The 11th Asian international competition films included two South Korean films, two Indian, two Iranian, one each for Japan, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Kazakhstan. Personally, I am most interested in Seire by South Korean director Kang Park. In Korean, the word ‘seire’ means that, 21 days within the baby’s birth, the house is kept in a protective rope so that evil spirits can not enter. This entails a lot of taboos to ensure that the babies come safely into the world. There are also many similar birth taboos in the Chinese and Taiwanese communities.

The newlyweds had just given birth to their first baby, and Ki-Hyeok received news of the death of his ex-girlfriend. Decided to disregard the taboo that it is not allowed to attend a funeral within 21 days of the new birth, Ki-Hyeok goes to worship and promises the ex-girlfriend’s twin sisters to carry the coffin of the ex-girlfriend during the funeral.

The twin sisters of his ex-girlfriend look exactly the same as his ex-girlfriend, and Ki-Hyeok is stunned by the memories of his ex-girlfriend, whom he dated for six years. After breaking the taboo, inexplicable misfortunes start to happen: one cuts an apple and it is all rotten, the memories of the ex-girlfriend are intertwined with reality, the brother-in-law blames the miscarriage of his wife on Ki-yeok (because Ki-Hyeok first entered the brother-in-law’s house from the funeral, and with a knife (in most Asian countries, this is an evil-bringer), andfinally his newborn baby has a life-threatening high fever.

Ki-Hyeok goes back to the mourning hall of his ex-girlfriend and begs her to let his baby go. It becomes gradually clear that his ex-girlfriend was also pregnant before, but Ki-Hyeok didn’t care at all. Ki-Hyeok also told the ex-girlfriend not to have children. Afterbreaking up with her, he then got married immediately.   The ex-girlfriend committed suicide with hatred after the miscarriage, and the twin sisters strongly felt her sister’s resentment. After Ki-Hyeok carried the coffin in the funeral ceremony, he rushed home to see the his baby. The baby actually blinked at Ki-Hyeok like his ex-girlfriend used to do, implying that the ex-girlfriend has been reborn in the newborn baby and would continue her relationship with Ki-Hyeok as his daughter.

Reality in this film is perfectly mixed with illusions and memories. All of the phantoms are in fact Ki-Hyeok’s guilty feelings about his ex-girlfriend. The psychological portrayal drama is disguised as a horror ghost film story, taking into account commercial entertainment needs. Most psychodrama are somewhat dull, and if the audience does not indulge in the drama, they may doze off. The requirements for theaudience are relatively high. For example, Visage (2009) by TSAI, Ming-Liang is very hard to understand without putting a lot of emotions into it. Seire is appropriately dotted with horror elements, and these horror elements help to describe Ki-Hyeok’s guilty feelings and memories. Both psychological depth and entertainment needs are satisfied. Director Kang Park’s skills are mature. I am surprised that this is Kang Park’s second work. The main actors’acting skills are humble and restrained, which withstand repeated aftertastes. There is no common problem of over-acting in many Korean and Japanese movies.

Before Seire, director Kang Park only shot a 25-minute short film, which is a story of a dream seller. Because the short film was not release internationally, we did not have chance to watch it. From the short film’s theme, it seems that director Kang Park is very good at mixing reality and illusion to tell stories as he pleases.

Seire is Kang Park’s second work and his first feature film. It demonstrates creative potential and is totally worthy of an award.

Hsin Wang
Edited by Anne-Christine Loranger