Tae-kyung Kim's MUOI: THE LEGEND OF A PORTRAIT
A movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
This atmospheric and well crafted horror film follows a young Korean author as she travels to Vietnam to investigate the legend of a haunted portrait. Familiar elements of traditional Asian horror films are sprinkled throughout but the direction, photography, settings, and affecting young female characters (most of the characters are attractive young women playing off unsympathetic males) move the film several notches above the average.
At first I was just interested in seeing Vietnam but the story does pull you in. The young author meets up with an old friend living alone in semi-exile in a remote country house. She has contacts with locals and academics who know something about the legend and introduces the author to them as she — and we — begin to piece together the ghostly tale.
Fans of Western slasher films will probably find MUOI pretty low-key. In terms of body count and on screen blood and gore they will be right. The use of violence is sparing. But when violent things happen the results are shocking and disturbing.
I liked it. The director doesn’t take the easy ways out to generate scares and keeps the focus on the young characters, which is good. The only downside I could see was the quality of the English subtitles. Especially in the first half of the film they seem to leave out important story elements the viewer needs to interpret on his or her own. Later on there is an interspersing of the subtitles with occasional English slang and swear words that seems to go against the grain of what has gone before. But these are minor quibbles.
Review copyright (c) 2012 by Dennis D. McDonald