Tuesday, 21 November 2006

9:56 (APT) (2006)

Korean horror discovers Ju-on 6 years too late!

Takashi Shimizu, the man who has made 6 films (all with the same name!) and 2 short films with the same ghosts and same scare tactics, was obviously separated at birth with Korean director Ahn Byeong-ki, who has also made a career out of making the same horror film over and over again (Nightmare, Phone, Ouija Board). For his fourth outing, Ahn has decided to submit a formal claim of kinship to Takashi Shimizu – not by a court injunction for a DNA test, but through making a horror movie staring a serial killing ghost that looks (long hair covering front of face, neck twisted to one side or another), moves (a limping, sad reject for the Ministry of Silly Walks), and sounds (you know, like a croaking frog or a log burning in a fireplace) like Kayako, the infamous female ghost from the Ju-on films and their 2 remakes.

Like Kayako, the ghost in 9:56 haunts an apartment. More precisely, an entire apartment block. Starting very recently, every night at 9:56 pm, the lights at the apartment flicker on and off, and a resident dies at that time, sometimes through suicide or a freak accident. Evidently the police are too stupid to connect random deaths together, but our feisty heroine (TM), a spunky career woman working on the night shift, lives in the block of flats just opposite, and gradually suspects something going on. Of course the deaths have to be supernatural in nature – just 5 minutes into the movie, the spunky career woman is spooked by a suicide in a train (it’s not a Korean movie if someone doesn’t get knocked down head-on by a speeding vehicle) into a quivering, job-shirking, blanket-hugging paranoid who sees ghosts everywhere in typical Ju-on fashion (behind you, in the shower! Beneath the bed! In the cell phone! Beside you!), even in her dreams. And you know that when each scare is revealed as a nightmare of the main character, it’s time to bolt out of the cinema hall to ask for your money back.

The heroine puts 2 and 2 together (the only instance in this movie that has some semblance of logic) and decides to get to the bottom of the mystery by spying on her opposite block neighbours with a pair of binoculars – surely a passing nod to Hitchcock’s Rear Window, since Ahn never bothers to develop the movie in that direction. It’s all rather pointless, since all the heroine needed to do was to look at the movie poster, which gives away the identity of the ghost as well as the “twist” that Ahn delivers in the final third of the film. It would have alerted her to keep a close watch on the only long-haired female in the movie, a helpless, wheelchair-bound orphan simultaneously cared for and ill-treated by the friendly neighbourhood committee of the apartment block, and saved you the price of a movie ticket as well.

Unoriginality isn’t a mortal sin in a horror movie, but being incapable of scaring audiences is. Even more unforgivable though is that Ahn’s methods of serving up the scares via Ju-on style peekaboo tricks, badly timed sound cues, and dark interiors (why is it that a character who is shown to flood her apartment in light in the movie’s beginning leaves her apartment in the dark later on?) are so dated, trite, predictable, and illogical that it’ll generate more derisive laughter and snorting in the cinema hall than any shivering. Poorly made, badly thought out, lazy, unentertaining, and coming far too late in the maturity (if not decline) of the Asian horror genre, Ahn Byeong-ki proves himself to be more of a fraudster than a frightster par excellence with 9:56.

First published at incinemas on 23 November 2006

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