FACE. 2004

Director: Sang-Gon Yoo

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Face gives us a detective tale & a supernatural horror story rolled into one. This double-aspect of the film does not integrate well; neither aspect fully succeeds.

The mystery regards a serial killer heart-organ harvester in cahoots with a heart transplant doctor. The killer goes mainly for women because that's sexier for the filmmakers' "Woody Factor," & as a detective tale it is simpleminded, cliche, & ultimately for the horror rather than for the mystery & detection.

The supernatural element regards one of the serial killer's victims haunting a forensic scientist & his daughter who was a recipient of one of the hearts.

The ghost is motivated not exclusively by vengeance but also by love. But the ghost-in-love element doesn't work when she keeps manifesting as such a horror image. The love-story element merely sabotages the revenge angle so that the film keeps cancelling itself out.

Like the lion's share of Japanese & Korean modern horror films, the at all times conventional ghost is presented as a pale glowering woman with spooky hair who can walk upside down on ceilings.

One has to embrace "walking on ceilings is scary" & "long black hair is scary" to find it at as atmospheric as intended. Although this shtick was wonderful the first fifty times in fifty movies, after a while one wonders if Asian horror filmmakers are scared of anything other than women.

High production values & good acting didn't save this one for me. It was a mite too commercially workmanlike, a mystery that was not all that mysterious poorly bolstered by horrific ghost imagery that barely fit the context.


FaceIt was strictly by accident that I watched Face a second time two or three years later. It was 99% excreted from memory & the whole time watching it, I thought I'd seen a film very similar to it previously, but never qutie remembered it.

It wasn't until I'd written a second review that I discovered an earlier review was already archived. It seemed worth preserving the second review if only as a gauge for how I might judge a work in a completely different year & different state of mind.

The influence of Ringu (1998) & Ju-on (2000) on Face (2004) is palpable, so that J-horror has helped change Korean horror cinema at least as much as it has influenced American horror.

A psycho organ harvester is killing a young girl as this crime-horror-thriller leaps from the gate. The case will soon come to forensic scientist Hyun-min (Shin Hyun-jun), a specialist in facial reconstruction from skulls.

He wants to quit his occupation & focus on caring for his sick child, who had a heart transplant & may indeed have been a lucky recipient of the psycho organ harvester. Her new heart seems to be a surgical success, but a mysterious illness is making her worse & worse.

A young woman named Sun-young (Song Yoon-ah) arrives at his house with the skull of the serial killer's fourth victim. She says she's been assigned to assist him in reconstructing the face, though it angers him his ex-bosses won't just let him quit.

Eerie happenings & his sickly daughter's apparent interaction with ghosts seem connected to the case. The skull sits on his desk as he refuses to return to his forsaken job, but the dead woman personally wants Hyun-min to restore her face to help find her killer. He's eventually convinced to take on the task.

The film is well acted, well photographed, a visually appealing smoothly edited production. It's an effective addition to the endless line of cliche pale female ghosts with wet stringy hair which seem to constitute the scariest thing possible in Asian horror, & lately in some American horror in imitation of J-horror.

Crime-solving by means of magic makes for a pisspoor detective story. The unravelling of who is harvesting organs for whom & why is not that interesting when forensics aren't required. Even the eventual finished reconstruction of the face reveals only that Hyun-min knew all along what the woman looked like & all the angst about figuring out what she looked like made for a nice visual revelation during the film, but was logically wasted effort since she had already revealed her appearance.

It has its spooky moments & the melancholic central protagonist has his appeal. But the story relies too much on coincidence, & it's too easy to see how the story might have been told without a ghost at all. The story can't decide whether it wants to be a police procedural that can solve a crime by reasonable & rational detective skills, or a supernatural tale that requires psychic powers to jack up interest in a thin story.

To large extent this is simply bad storytelling disguised by skillful tricks of editing, sound editing, & every filmic technique for faking one's way through a poorly told tale.

The "surprise" ending akin to the "I see dead people" revelation of The Sixth Sense (1999) is followed by an overlong, meandering coda of our protagonist getting himself lined up to become the last victim. So in the end, even the expert structuring of the film failed the creative team. However, if one watches the film inattentively, it might seem a lot better than it actually is.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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