Media Blasters // 2004 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // August 10th, 2006
Being the new kid in school...can be hell.
This impressive two-disc edition of Witch Board is a clear indication that Media Blasters wants to become a force to be reckoned with in Asian horror. Too bad they didn't pull out all the stops for a more unique film.
If the movies have taught us anything, it's that teenage girls have it rough. As a new girl in an all-girls school in a small Korean town, Yu-jin (Se-eun Lee) has it particularly bad. The girls there don't like outsiders, and Yu-jin's past year was full of bullying. Refusing to take it anymore, she convinces two friends to call on a spirit to get back at the bullies.
Unfortunately, things go even better than she plans. Yu-jin is taken over by a spirit, and her classmates start to die in rather horrible ways. Horrified by the deaths, she gains the sympathy of two teachers, who try to help her end the curse and return peace to the village. There is deep evil behind this possession, though, and accomplishing that just might destroy them all.
At first, I was quite unimpressed by Witch Board. After all, the cursed high school girl story has been done before, and I've seen about ten too many Asian ghost movies. The fact that Yu-jin has been cursed by the spirit of Kim In-suk isn't much of a mystery, and the details of the curse are repeated about twenty times. Just as I was really getting sick of it all, though, the movie started getting better. Now, that's not to say that Witch Board is any more inventive than the countless other Ringu ripoffs from the past few years, but it has enough twists and turns to keep casual viewers entertained.
The film flashes back to the original curse, which is a far more compelling story. Buried deep in the center of this film is a statement about the differences between small-town life in Korea, and the changes brought about by technology and a shift away from superstition by decree of the Korean government. As so often happens, though, this interesting social statement quickly gives way to overused horror clichés. By the end of the movie, I was just as unimpressed as I was after the first fifteen minutes.
This is the second film I've reviewed from Byeong-ki Ahn. Many of the things that I wrote in my review of Phone apply here as well. Technically, Witch Board is brilliantly constructed. The cinematography is stunning, making great use of color, camera angles, and cuts. The film never feels like the work of a hack, even at its most generic. As with Phone, I would probably be raving about this movie if it was my first Asian horror experience.
Also like Phone, however, there are simply too many familiar moments to be found in Witch Board. The worst of these is probably yet another ghost that looks exactly like the girl from Ringu. Seeing her in the first scene destroys any tension, in much the same way that Scary Movie used the Scream ghost to diffuse tension. She even crawls out of a garbage bag at one point, which turns what should have been the scariest moment of the film into the funniest. We will not see another great Asian horror movie until directors finally get over this too-familiar image. The other big weakness of the film is the story, which doesn't always make sense. The flashbacks are set up so that we don't find out everything at the beginning, but there are too many revelations crammed into the last half an hour. A bit more explanation would have solved this problem, and length certainly isn't an issue since the film clock in at only 92 minutes.
While Witch Board is lacking in a lot of key areas, this is a fantastic release. The image transfer captures the nuances of the film, handling the colors especially well. There's a lot of red here, and it doesn't bleed at all (in the color sense, that is). The Korean-language surround track is also great, making excellent use of all five channels and the LFE. So many such releases simply use the surrounds to echo the stereo channels. Here, sounds come bursting out from all directions.
There are a ton of extras as well. The first disc contains a music video, as well as a commentary track with director Byeong-ki Ahn and several of the lead actresses. It's a pleasant track, and helpful for those of us who don't live in that culture. The second disc has a very detailed production featurette, which focuses on the performances of the lead actresses. It's an appropriate emphasis in this case, and it's fascinating to see the crew at work. The believable performances have obviously come from Ahn's uncompromising approach to filming. A featurette on the stunts and special effects highlights the ongoing importance of practical effects, and it's always exciting to watch stunt people lit on fire. Some of the featurettes are less exciting, such as the PR shoot footage and the interviews, but it's nice to see studios bring such a thorough treatment to Asian films. There is an interview with Ahn that covers his philosophy on film horror, which is more interesting. His choice to use so many horror conventions is intentional, and he sees his first few films as a way of getting comfortable with those techniques before he moves on to make something fresh. If he ever does, I believe it will be a horror masterpiece.
Witch Board might be worth checking out, both for those who want to delve into Asian horror, and the people who just can't get enough. It's a well crafted film, placed into one of the best special editions the genre has ever seen. If Ringu was enough for you, though, don't feel bad passing up Witch Board. There really isn't much here that's new. Yu-jin and her friends may have conjured up an evil spirit, but we're not fooled. It's the same spirit that has been conjured in dozens of other horror films over the past few years.
Ahn deserves credit for his filmmaking abilities, but he will have much better results when he uses a fresh story. Next time, do something new!
Review content copyright © 2006 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Korean)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Korean)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Production Featurette
* Music Video
* Special Effects Featurette
* Stunt Featurette