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May 11, 2019

Hansel and Gretel

by Franz Patrick


Hansel and Gretel (2007)
★★ / ★★★★

Eun-Soo (Jeong-myeong Cheon) was on his way to visit his mother in critical condition when he receives a phone call from his pregnant girlfriend. The conversation does not go so well and just when he hangs up, he sees something in the middle of the road and swerves to avoid it. The highway is quite windy so the car ends up across the rail and onto a forested area.

Unconscious for what it seems like a couple of hours, he is found by a girl named Jung-soon (Ji-hee Jin) who takes him to her home and introduces him to the rest of her family. They are nice enough to let Eun-Soo stay overnight, but when he tries to find the highway the next day, he ends up back at the house. The looks on their faces suggest that they expected this would happen. Eun-Soo looks for another way out to no avail.

Based on the screenplay by Pil-Sung Yim and Min-sook Kim, “Henjel gwa Geuretel” is composed of many creepy elements from the dark fairly tale and is able to deliver the necessarily visuals designed to establish an off-kilter, isolated world located in the heart of from what it seems to be a magical forest. However, its interesting story is so often dampened by over-the-top sentimentality that it comes off manipulative.

The scenes shot indoors are so catching, I felt like I was right there with the characters as they sport fake smiles in order to hide the fact that something sinister is hiding behind the sugary confections and cute portraits of rabbits on walls. It is typical that each room is well-lit so we can appreciate the flood of colors that manage to complement one another. The camera is quick to focus on specific decorations that appear cute or harmless the moment we glance upon them. But the longer we look, there is a darkness and uneasiness emitted from the objects which reflect how we end up feeling toward the three children (the other siblings played by Eun Won-jae and Ji-hee Hin, both wonderful in providing piercing glares).

Eun-Soo’s early attempts to find a way out are interesting. By about the fourth time, however, it begins to feel repetitive. The problem is that we have been convinced that he is not going to find a way out until he decides to ask the necessary questions. It is most frustrating when the character is much slower than us to pick up on rather prominent clues. Worse, he does not seem to have a plan on how to outsmart the children in question. Halfway through, I began to lose interest because the level of menace has waned somewhat and the pacing has slowed down considerably. While Eun-Soo remains to encounter strange happenings, there is a lack of urgency to them.

The picture’s daze is broken when a flashback involving the children takes center stage. Finally we get to understand how they end up being so clingy to their guests. The explanation is superficial but at least one is offered. However, it does not save the material from the eventual waterworks toward the end. Instead of being in the moment, I started to wonder whether the tears flowing down the performers’ faces were real. The crying feels like a desperate tactic to create a semblance of sadness when it should have trusted us to interpret our own feelings.

“Hansel & Gretel,” directed by Pil-Sung Yim, is successful is setting up a portentous mood but there is not much else to it. Without its wonderful art direction and set design, it emits little magic because the screenplay does not offer enough excitement outside the usual horror pitfalls. Of course Eun-Soo will go up to the attic after hearing thudding noises from above. Naturally, we brace ourselves for the eventual sudden appearance of something hiding in the dark.

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