South Korean spin on a time-honored fable as a young father-to-be wrecks his car in a wooded area where he is led by a ostensibly innocent girl to a picturesque cottage where the seemingly-perfect family appears to dwell. Little does he know there’s no perfection to be found and of course, no escape…
Director: Kim Min Suk
Cast: Cheon Jeong Myeong, Eun Won Jae, Shim Eun Kyeong, Jin Ji Hye, Yeong-Nam Jang, Kyeong-ik Kim
The Examination: Voguish and beautifully executed mild horror film bearing just a hint of the original Brothers Grimm tale while creating its own Twilight Zone-ish tale of three orphans imbibed in their self-generated alternate reality. All who enter their fantastical (and frequently hellish) world need not worry about checking back out.
Okay, you might be concerned a horror film under the title Hansel and Gretel will end up being another Deadtime Stories. That, or some cheeseball fairy tale of the damned flick ala Troll which will have you begging for Witch Hazel and Bugs Bunny’s classic toon scrum while trapped in a candy chalet and smart-ass waifs yelling “Ahh, your mother rides a vacuum cleaner!”
Fear not, though. Kim Min Suk’s Hansel and Gretel from 2007 is a refined and occasionally creepy film in which a trio of abused children with special gifts encase themselves in a dream world where they call the shots and naturally they trust no adults. If you thought that nasty little turd Billy Mumy from the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life” did some horrific things to the adults who couldn’t please him, stayed tuned for what happens to grown-ups in this vehicle.
The story opens with our lead character Eun-su (Cheon Jeong Myeong) on a phone call with his pregnant girlfriend while driving to pay respects to his ailing mother. His irresponsible skittishness about becoming a father comes into play when he suddenly wrecks on the road and ends up being discovered in the nearby woods by a pretty little girl draped in a red shawl (might as well keep the fable follies in continuity, right?) named Yeong-hye (Shim Eun Kyeong).
Yeong-hye, who is in search of her sister’s jewelry in the dark woods offers Eun-su respite at her place, a Kincaidian cottage filled with such splendor Eun-su is compelled to take the proffer to rest for the night. Keep in mind the sign at the gate states “House of Happy Children,” which factors into Hansel and Gretel’s back story.
As Eun-su discovers there’s something just a bit odd about the family occupying the far-flung forest house, he is fed a plate full of sweets while the supposed parents scurry nervously about in disguised fear of the children while arguing between themselves behind closed doors.
When Eun-su attempts to find his way back to the highway, he becomes literally trapped in the woods and soon delegated surrogate “uncle” to the three children who we have come to learn severely punish all adults who piss them off. One adult is turned into Yeong-hye’s life-sized doll, one is melded into a tree and one’s cannibalized remains are fed to an unknowing Eun-su.
The older brother of the trio Man Bok (Eun Won Jae) wields telekinetic powers which he uses to neutralize abusive would-be parents as well as to hold Eun-su prisoner as the trio’s ultimately accepted guardian.
We learn through later exposition that Man Bok, Yeong-hye and the youngest sister Jeong Sun (Jin Ji Hye) were originally born between 1957 and 1965 and were horribly beaten and raped by their first custodian at the same place known as “House of Happy Children.” Having suffered indignity, starvation and some graphic castigation (largely upon the other children in the orphanage) our trio receives a visit from Santa Claus on Christmas who gives them candy and a book of Hansel and Gretel and who tells them every wish they could ever desire will come to fruition if they truly want it.
Taking their fiery revenge upon the insidious “father,” our trio has left so much of a violent imprint upon the house its lurking evil stays attached even as the children have managed to fabricate an ideal existence amongst themselves despite the fact every “parent” they kidnap disappoints them time and again.
In their artificial world, the children (who lose their young facades in a secret room entered in a floating door in the woods) inadvertently haul in a bible-whumping “cleanser” who beguiles them into thinking he, not Eun-su is their rightful protector. Yet Eun-su has seen the interloper for his murderous ways and he desperately tries to get the kids to see reason.
In the end, the children have bonded so deeply with Eun-su they refuse to let him go despite his protestations and sudden inclination to man up and be a dad to his unborn. One might infer the presentation of an iniquitous adversary brought out Eun-su’s parental instincts to such extremes he seeks to bring the children into the real world with him. In many ways, this parable is so Serling-esque you have to applaud Kim Min Suk for his astuteness.
As the fake-out finales pile up before Hansel and Gretel officially ends, there’s still a wonderful charm left in the wake of a film that has its share of ugliness. The movie is breathtaking to behold at times, even with simplistic CGI of one of the toys Jeong Sun imagines fluttering to life. Best of all, Suk delivers a very classy update to a vintage terror tale, one uniquely all his own. Hollywood, take notes…