Hansel and Gretel (Korea, 2008) – Fant-Asia Film Review

A Tasty Terror Treat from Korea

hanselandgretel_malaysiadvdThis  remarkable and effective, if uneven and a tad overlong, dark fantasy from Korea takes the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, grafts it into the essence of the “It’s A Good Life” TWILIGHT ZONE episode and tells a story about lonely and abused children seeking a normal and loving family. Instead of a pair of siblings stumbling onto the home of a witch, who then captures them for her supper, we have the three kids (marvelously performed, especially the youngest one who really invested a lot of personal emotion into her role – or at least had it prompted out of her at the right moments) who lure lost adults into their home in the woods and make them stay in an attempt to gain loving parents. The protagonist is a soon-to-be father who crashes his car in the woods and is “rescued” by one of the kids – only to find he can never leave and that the other adults who come into the kids’ midst encounter devastating ends. Like “It’s a Good Life,” the individual or combined imagination of the kids actually alters their reality, like making the forest so large no one who gets lost in it can get out, or making the attic miles long so that one of the visiting adults who offended the children can never escape, and keeping a large supply of cakes and candies constantly close at hand.

Director Pil-Sung Yim, who helmed 2005’s well-regarded horror thriller ANTARCTIC JOURNAL, invests the film with an intricate and colorful visual design. The “gingerbread house” in which the kids live, along with a rotating pair of coerced pseudo “parents” and other trapped visitors, is beautifully designed. The story progresses smoothly and interestingly, enhanced by a beautifully evocative orchestral-choral score by Byeongwoo Lee (THE HOST) as the film runs a satisfactory line between dark fantasy and horror linked by the characterization and plight of the children. The protagonist must manage to survive, keep from getting the kids angry at him (or risk being turned into a china doll or grafted into an oak tree), and escape back to his reality while at the same time developing a sympathetic bond with the children (oh, and also save them from a serial killer preacher who stumbles on the cottage – a nod to NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, perhaps?). The multi-layered film develops a good bit of sympathy towards its characters and tells an engrossing story with  heart and creativity.

About the Author

Randall Larson

Randall Larson contributed “The Score” column to Cinefantastique magazine from 1983 to 1999. The author of Musique Fantastique, A Survey of Film Music in the Fantastic Cinema (1984) and Music from the House of Hammer (1996), Larson also published CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal during the 1980s. He currently writes a bi-weekly film music column for buysoundtrax.com, reviews horror soundtrack CDs for Cemetery Dance magazine, writes for Music from the Movies and Film Music magazines, and writes soundtrack CD liner note books.

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