Office manager LeeSun is at odds with the work performance of the younger, newly hired employee SaeYoung. As LeeSun begins to investigate the young woman’s secretive life and mysterious past, she uncovers things that were better left unknown.
The Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF), held each May in Jeonju, South Korea, is known more for its wealth of indie dramas from around the world than for its horror and related genre offerings. This year, however, JIFF programmers booked more chiller and thriller fare than ever before. This review showcases the Korean indie horror flick The Wicked. In my next installment, I will discuss two science-fiction mind benders that should appeal to many HNN readers.
South Korean horror films have been all but absent from multiplex screens here in their homeland for the past few years, having been eclipsed by the violent-revenge-film genre. Several independent efforts can be found at Korean film festivals, though, and one such film that I saw at the Jeonju International Film Festival in May — The Wicked — is solid enough that I feel it could help rekindle interest in homegrown horror movies here.
After a whimsical score plays over the film’s opening credits, the opening scenes continue to lull viewers into thinking that this movie may be a horror comedy. SaeYoung (Park JuHee) is the new, unpopular, young hire in a small office that is managed by the only slightly older LeeSun (Na SooYoon). We are introduced to these two main characters as LeeSun gives SaeYoung a harsh dressing down in front of the other staff members because she turned in an unacceptable report. When SaeYoung promises to do her best to turn in an improved version by that evening, everyone hears when LeeSun asks her if she is willing to wager cutting off one of her fingers if the redo doesn’t pass muster. The staff is even more shocked when SaeYoung challenges her manager to make the same bet. To save face, LeeSun arrogantly agrees and a deadline is set for that night. When SaeYoung delivers a better version as promised, the lighter tone of the movie starts getting darker, quickly.
SaeYoung becomes more assertive and arrogant in front of her coworkers, including announcing private details about LeeSun’s boyfriend. As LeeSun starts to lose face as well as the favor of the staff, she begins to look up people who have known SaeYoung in the past. The few who are willing to speak to her believe that she is either a witch, a ghost, or at the very least, a stalker. Meanwhile, SaeYoung tries to strike up a romance with an unlikely candidate, and to say that she does not take rejection well is an understatement.
To give away any more plot details here would be bad form on my part. If I find any fault with The Wicked, it would be in its final act, which feels a bit familiar. This is not so bothersome as to take away from the rest of the film’s strengths, though.
Director Yoo YoungSun creates a tense atmosphere and gets fine performances out of his two leads, as well as the supporting actors. Though Na delivers a strong rendition as a boss doing her best to save her reputation and solve the mysterious background of her strange employee, Park gives an absolutely star-making turn as an outsider who fails at her efforts of fitting in and who considers herself unlovable. Her character goes through a wide range of emotions, depending on how she wants to manipulate or appear to different people, and Park wonderfully rises to each occasion. I honestly feel that her performance here is the finest one in a Korean horror film since Kim OkBin’s ill-treated-wife-turned-power-mad vampire in Thirst and Seo YeongHee’s ill-treated-wife-turned-psychotic-scythe-wielding killer in Bedeviled.
I hope that The Wicked finds the wide audience that I think it deserves. I just learned a few hours ago that it has been picked up for Korean distribution and will open in cinemas here this October. Keep an eye out for it an international film festival near you during the next few months, and hopefully it will pick up an international art-house run or, at the very least, a wide DVD release.