Sunday, March 11, 2012

Movie Review - Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel Poster

* Title: Hansel and Gretel
* Revised Romanization: Henjelgwa Geuretel
* Hangul: 헨젤과 그레텔
* Director: Lim Pil Seong

* Runtime: 116 min
* Language: Korean
* Country: South Korea
* Leads: Cheon Jeong Myeong, Eun Won Jae, Sim eun Kyeong, Jin Ji Hee


I will soon make another post with my opinion on the ending
I don't include this here as it will have spoilers and be sizeable

"Hansel and Gretel" is one of the first Korean movies I watched since I started getting deeply into Korean cinema. To this day, it remains one of the strongest experiences I've had regarding films.

This movie is portrayed and acted out as a horror fantasy film. It does have its scary moments, but it goes beyond that. Some of you, like me, might think you know what kind of movie you'll be seeing. You might make assumptions about it and chances are that some of you will be feeling like idiots by the time this film is over. As I did.

Being audiences which are so used to films and stories where repetition and predictability are a given, films like this remind us how you can do something wonderful and original.

Films like these make Korean cinema brilliant, I feel. I also don't think they would have handled this so well in Hollywood. So, the differences of these two industries show in movies like "Hansel and Gretel".

Start of the Journey

The movie gets into the plot quite fast. We see the main character, Eun Soo (Cheon Jeong Myeong), talking on the phone and we get some info on the character and the kind of life he leads, as well as relationships which are later mentioned again.

He is having an argument with his girlfriend, before ending up in a car accident and waking up at night. He is found by Yeong Hee (Sim Eun Kyeong), a girl who offers to take him to her house in the woods, where she lives with her parents and two siblings.

Soon enough, he discovers that there is something "off" with the place and definitely something "off" with the people there. Their overly friendly behavior is worrying, as Eun Soo can't seem to get some proper help out of there.

The Family

The Story and Characters:

The interesting thing about this movie is that the hero of it is perhaps the least interesting person. The movie is more about the other characters, as seen by this almost generic protagonist. If this were a game, he would be the voiceless, character-less and faceless hero of a first person shooter. I am a gamer, so that analogy is one I find very appropriate.

This movie is not about him, even if we do see his story and even if he does go through his own journey as a character. This is more about the people who enter the house, the ones who live there and their story, though.

The Hero
Eun Soo sort of acts as an observer, as well as the main hero.

The children here are very unique in their personalities. Man Bok (Eun Won Jae) is the most short-fused of them, being the big brother in all this, while the girls are more vulnerable, especially Yeong Hee, who gets quickly attached to Eun Soo.

The Bonds
Often literally so.

Later on, we have the addition of a couple who are also stranded in the woods. The Deacon (Park Hee Soon) turns into a main character of sorts and he is one interesting individual.

I cannot say anymore about anyone without giving spoilers, as this movie reveals its characters and their personalities and backgrounds very beautifully. It unfolds them and the plot in a way that gets the viewer interested in them and wanting to know more about them.

Also, you really feel for the hero and want to see his adventure end well. As generic as he is, he is also developed in a way that makes you bond with him and want his well-being.

This movie is really something you are better off knowing nothing about as you go into it. It's paced wonderfully and it gives you all you need, little by little.

The Cast:

I wrote in a past article, that child actors in Korea are very good indeed, sometimes even surpassing the adult actors in a work. This applies here. Very much so. The three child actors here do a hell of a job.

The Kids

Cheon Jeong Myeong is ok, for the type of character he is playing, but I personally have seen him in about 3-4 works and just can't "feel it". He's quite mediocre, for me. I can't put him in that category of actors who just seem like they "belong" on the other side of the camera lens, conveying emotions and characters to us. But he does try, bless him, even if the child actors kindly mop the floor with him.

The Lead
He's very likable, but he doesn't engage me.

We also see Jang Young Nam and Kim Kyeong Ik here (as the Mom and Dad), who do a pretty good job too. It's good that they chose very strong actors for all the adults as well, as the lead might be the generic hero type, but these people drive the plot. An extra big "I ♥ you" to Park Hee Soon, whose charisma and creative acting manage to make his character absolutely captivating.

The Parents

The Deacon

What you see:

The movie is wonderfully made. The sets, CG, make up, the whole cinematography are just beautiful. This is really one of those movies that are a feast for the eyes. The entire thing is artful, without being artsy.

There is interesting use of techniques which give this a very unique look and feel. The director simply knows what he's doing. There is also this quite well placed use of a counter, showing the days Eun Soo spends in the house, as this enhances the feeling that he is trapped there and that things are building up.

One big plus here, which helps the movie pull you in, is the atmosphere. Everything is dull, but colorful. Seemingly pleasant, but oppressing. The forest is dark, the house/set is dark. Everything from the way it's filmed to the props and their use is just spot on for creating a truly enchanting and horrifying place.

The Bunnies
It would be a lovely house to live in, if it weren't so creepy.

What you hear:

"Hansel and Gretel" does not only boast a very inspired visual side, but a musical one too. The score here is really as unique and beautiful as the film itself. There are pieces that are haunting, pieces for the conflicts, everything a movie needs, but they just add so much to the atmosphere of this.

Some movies have music that makes you feel anything in its place would do. Some movies have music which truly feels made for them and incorporated wonderfully. In this case, it is most definitely the latter.

Some Things To Wrap Up:

"Hansel and Gretel" is one of the movies which make me truly happy I discovered Korean cinema. It took me through a journey as a viewer and a person. A journey which surprised me, especially about how programmed we are to expect and believe certain things when watching films, but also how easily we can sometimes judge people and form stereotypes.

I will talk more about this in my future piece about the ending and this journey of mine, but it truly is a movie that is fresh, beautifully made and with a balance between looks and substance which is extremely hard to achieve, for a lot of people.

I recommend it to anyone who loves good cinema. Regardless of country. This is mainstream, but it's the best type of mainstream one could ask for.

The Innocence
A movie does not have to be art house in order to be beautiful.

Who will like it:

Those who appreciate art, for one. The movie is visually stunning. This is also for those who spot and appreciate detail and care put into all aspects of a work. A work where one thing isn't "just thrown in there" because too much focus has gone to other things.

People interested in psychology and sociology would also find this interesting. But frankly, I think this is a movie everyone should check out.


The only reason I wouldn't say it's perfect is the fact that Cheon Jeong Myeong did ruin immersion for me during some moments, with his occasional wooden acting. There were some scenes where the emotions were strong, everyone else was wonderful and then his turn came and somehow gave all those strong emotions and suspense a big hiccup. I think a better actor with enough charisma to be "invisible" as a generic hero and with skills to shine when Eun Soo does become the real hero would have been better.

On the Fanboy Scale: Not a hot woman in sight, but those who like horror, fantasy and the nice visuals would appreciate this. As for the rest, this doesn't have action and the main characters are three kids and some dude.

The Mom
Perhaps some of you would appreciate the housewife/mother type.

On the Fangirl Scale: Again, unless you're nuts about Cheon, no hot men here. Actually, I take that back. There is Park Hee Soon, if you're into the older, kick-ass actor type. His character is not fangirl material, but if you're a sane fangirl and on the geeky side of the Force, you'll love him.

These "fanboy/fangirl" categories of mine, however, refer to the "Boobs! BLOOD! KILL!" type of fanboys and "Opppaaaaa! ♥♥!!1" girly type of fangirls. The non-overly excitable people can use their precious brain to think if this is a film they would like.

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