K-horror meets art house in this majestic masterpiece of the macabre from 2007. Sibling directors Jeong Beom-sik and Jeong Sik spin a haunting yarn of serial murder, unnatural love and supernatural retribution set in a Seoul hospital circa 1942. The membrane separating life and death is wafer-thin in this house of pain, all rich mahogany hues and dark shadows, and nothing is what it seems. If you love having your expectations defied, if you savor a confounding plot twist, if you're up for a rousing game of "who's the ghost?" (as well as "who's about to become one?"), well, here you go.
Three stories entwine and inform one another: An intern (Jin Goo) falls in love with the frozen corpse of his arranged fiance (Yeo Ji); A young girl (Ko Joo-yeon) survives a car accident that kills her mother and potential step-father (Park Ji-ah, David McInnis), only to be haunted by their ghosts; and husband-and-wife doctors (Kong Ho-seok, Kim Bo-kyeong) try to determine why one of them doesn't cast a shadow. Meanwhile, someone is brutally mutilating Japanese soldiers in the vicinity and an intrepid army cop (ubiquitous character actor Kim Eung-soo) wants to know who. Oh, and I did mention ghosts, right? Yes, there are ghosts. The kind that don't just float there looking wispy, but rather tend to grab your ass and pull you right through the morgue tray door!
There is one issue, however, namely a certain slow-as-molasses-in-January element. Not all the way through, mind you, just now and then, but increasingly during the third act. Epitaph is, after all, the Jeong brothers' film debut, and their beginner status is apparent in the way they're just a bit too in love with a suspenseful scene, dragging it out until all suspense is drained and the audience is left with a mounting "get on with it!" annoyance. Fortunately, there's enough talent on display here to warrant optimism for future films (and, as I say, the majority of this one moves along just fine).
Hats off to 12-year-old Ko Joo-yeon (above) for a show-stealing performance unlike any I've seen since little Eun Seo-woo ran off with it in K-horror classic Phone (2002). Ko's adult contemporaries are no slouches either, raising the overall prestige of the picture with their understated yet intense portrayals.
So yeah, absolutely see this film. The Jeong brothers have arrived, and from the looks of it we can expect exciting things from them in the years to come.
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