ContactSales: CJ Entertainment, Seoul ([email protected][email protected])
Premiere: Cinema Digital Seoul Film Festival (Butterfly), 20 Aug 2010. Theatrical release: South Korea, 17 Mar 2011.
Presented by Korean Academy of Film Arts (SK), in association with CJ Entertainment. Produced by Korean Academy of Film Arts (SK). Producer: Heo Eun-gyeong.
Script: Jo Sung-hee. Photography: Baek Mun-su. Editing: Jo Sung-hee. Music: none. Art direction: Lee Byeong-deok, Lee Byeong-jun.
Cast: Lee Min-ji (Jang Sun-yeong), Park Hae-il (man in baseball cap), Ryu Seung-mok, Park Sae-jong, Kim Yeong-ho, Lee Min-ah.
End of Animal 짐승의 끝
Contemporary horror drama
2010, colour, 16:9, 113 mins
Directed by Jo Sung-hee (조성희)
By Derek Elley
Mon, 13 December 2010, 13:05 PM (HKT)
An original horror-cum-apocalypse movie whose sense of menace is not limited by its low budget. Festivals, including genre events, plus niche theatrical possibilities.
South Korea, winter, the present day. Jang Sun-yeong (Lee Min-ji), a heavily pregnant young woman who's just been dumped by her boyfriend Min-gi, is travelling by taxi from Seoul to Taeryeong to meet her mother after a while away from home. Near their destination, in a deserted area of countryside, a man in a baseball cap asks for a lift. He appears to know everything about the past lives of both Sun-yeong and the driver. Suddenly, after a blinding flash of light, Sun-yeong passes out. When she wakes up, the man has gone, the taxi won't start, and nothing electrical will work in the area. The driver has left a message that he has gone for help. In a nearby deserted house Sun-yeong meets a scruffy young local boy, Yang Dong-ju, who's looking to find his way home. The two set off for Taeryeong Rest Area, three kilometres away, and en route meet a man, Kim Tae-jin, and a woman whose car has also broken down. When Sun-yeong realises she's left her mobile phone in the taxi, the man offers to walk back to find it; when he doesn't return, the woman borrows Sun-yeong's shoes and coat and bag, and goes to find him. Meanwhile, a local man, Gye-seok, who earlier helped the taxi driver, comes by and offers a lift on his bike to Sun-yeong, who's cut her foot on some glass while arguing with Dong-ju. But instead of taking her to the Rest Area, he takes her to his cottage.
Certainly one of the most striking indie debuts of the year, JO Sung-hee 조성희's graduation film for the Korean Academy of Film Arts has two qualities which are often sorely missing in the field: a strong idea developed in a cinematic way and a sense that the budget is not limiting its execution. Part apocalypse, part horror, part mystery movie, End of Animal 짐승의 끝 (2010) starts with a bang, pretty much sustains its mood throughout, and also manages to reference other stranded-among-weird-locals genre movies while remaining intensely Korean in its characters and relationships. It's a first feature that fulfils all the promise shown in Jo's 43-minute short Don't Step Out of the House 남매의 집 (2008) — the third segment of Nice Shorts (2009) — in which two children are menaced by strangers in the basement of a house.
The atmosphere of threat which permeates the movie is established straightaway in the powerful first 10 minutes: a young woman in a taxi in the country, a man in a baseball hat (whose face is never clearly seen) hitching a ride and behaving in an dominating manner, and his countdown to a blinding flash of light that causes a total power outage and knocks out the girl and the driver. Throughout, the film plays on the aggression that lies just below the formal surface and linguistic politesse of South Korean society, especially in a remarkable scene where a stranded older woman demands the girl lends her her shoes, coat and bag before setting out to find a friend. The film thankfully never resorts to the extreme physical violence that's become such a depressing feature of recent South Korean cinema, but as the heavily pregnant girl — played with a mixture of deference and stubbornness by LEE Min-ji 이민지 — suffers one after another humiliation the movie is all the more powerful for its relative restraint.
Jo largely manages the difficult balancing act of keeping his audience in the dark without explaining much, though the film would benefit from some trimming in its middle and later stages to a tighter 90 minutes. The resolution — which includes a neat flashback — still leaves the story unexplained on a concrete level, though its religious parallels are clearly there for the taking. Whether it actually amounts to very much at the end of the day, and whether it could also have been done equally well as a short, is more debatable; but as an offbeat genre movie it certainly provides a gripping ride on first viewing.
The HD photography makes good use of the wintry, colourless locations and encourages the sense of apocalypse, of total social breakdown. Baleful moans on the soundtrack, like a wounded bear or hell's gate opening, economically establish a feeling that there's more out there than the audience is ever going to be allowed to see. In short, Jo's film proves that money need never be a limitation if the ideas are there. His next step as a director will be interesting to see.