A Freaky Fairy Tale -- Korean fear fable Hansel and Gretel gets a Blu-ray bow from 88 Films in a new, packed special edition release. And we talk to the director Pilsung Yim!
Korean fear fable Hansel and Gretel gets a Blu-ray bow from 88 Films in a new, packed special edition release. And we talk to the director Pilsung Yim!
By Calum Waddell
An instant horror classic, the contemporary Korean fright-flick Hansel and Gretel is one of the country's finest modern achievements. Now receiving an HD BluRay bow in the UK from your friends at 88 Films, this outré oriental shocker is colourful, contained and offers audiences something that is truly sinister: a trio of seemingly adorable young children who have murderous intentions. The director of this creepy woodland-set scary movie is Pilsung Yim, who reached worldwide acclaim with 2005’s icy thriller Antarctic Journal - another classic that is well worth the attention of anyone who is interested in the modern Korean wave of cinema.
Hansel and Gretel introduces us to a helpless twenty-something professional trapped in a waking hell after his car spins off the road due to some wintry weather. Once awoken, our man stumbles through some woodland and ends up in a forest mansion lorded over by three seemingly innocuous youngsters – aged from adolescent to early teens. However, nothing is quite as it seems and he soon finds himself unable to return to normality (the trail back to the motorway consistently leads in a circle to nowhere) and, even worse, the threat of certain death looms over him less he bring himself to complain…
Favourably compared to the likes of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage at the time f its rlease, Hansel and Gretel is that rare thing – a slice of solemn supernatural spookiness that does not owe its roots to Ringu and its many spin-offs. “For many years it has been my wish to make a film where children perform the main roles,” states the director. “With Hansel and Gretel it was my desire to reinterpret the dark and phantasmal essence of children's fairy tales and update it into something truly sinister and scary. I was also attracted to the story’s cynical view of children’s lives. The original fairy tale had this element, of course, and I think it is extremely valid even today. I think that many children are raised in a turbulent environment and it is so sad. Growing up is not easy and I never liked it when films try to indicate that childhood is not a difficult experience...”
Hansel and Gretel is a very colourful movie – can you talk about the challenges of the set design?
Yes, first of all, I was blessed with the co-operation between the film’s art director Ryu Seong-hee, who also worked on The Host and Memories of Murder, and the cinematographer Kim Jee-yong, who is perhaps most famous for shooting the classic A Bittersweet Life. I think that they achieved a great job – Hansel and Gretel looks exactly as I envisioned it would. I wanted to match very colourful visual images with damaged rooms and goods, which reflect the personality of the movie’s children. I think this comes across well in the film. I especially wanted to make the children’s house seem like a hallucination - it was to always appear very dreamlike to the main adult character: as if he had wandered into a nightmare on a hallucination. I am proud of how the house looks and the atmosphere surrounding it.
Speaking of which, how did you find the house for the movie?
The production design team actually built it up in Jeju Island, which is a very beautiful part of Korea. It was actually very hard work to do this because the set was built very deep in a desolate mountain. All of the properties, lawn and landscape architectures that you see in Hansel and Gretel were created from scratch – all thanks to the great concepts that the production design team came up with.
How did you want the audience to react towards the three children in the movie? After all, there are moments when we really, really despise these characters...
Well you might have despised them but I actually hoped the audience would have pity and sorrow (laughs).
Yes but the three children are responsible for murder and kidnap – it is hard to warm to them…
This may be true but all of this sorrow is, in the end, caused by the adult world and how these children have been dismissed by parents and guardians. In the last scene of Hansel and Gretel I hoped that the audience would want to hug the children and maybe, after that, they would go home from the cinema and look after their own kids or cousins with extra special care. I think it is imperative that the next generation grows up without violence or pain…
If you had to pick a favourite horror film what would it be?
Although it is not like typical horror films I would have to pick Peter Jackson’s masterpiece Heavenly Creatures. It was made in 1994, before Peter went on to have great success with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I think it is a very impressive film that represents agony, fear, illusion and the grief of growing up. It is hard to combine these sorts of feelings into a film but Heavenly Creatures make its point very dramatically. I also love the more supernatural terror of Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining – mainly because they reflect the soul of human beings. I consider both of these titles to be beautiful but also gruesome in their own way...
In a similar vein can you talk about any filmmakers who have influenced you?
I have been a cine-phile since I was young and, on a personal level, Bong Joon-ho and Kim Ji-woon are both intimate directors who I admire a lot. They stimulate my projects and I respect their artistic integrity.
Interesting you should mention Bong Joon-ho because you worked with him on Antarctic Journal. Can you talk about this experience?
First of all I want to say that I think Bong Joon-ho is one of the best living directors in the whole of Korea. He only wrote a single scene on Antarctic Journal, but he advised me about the overall structure of the film and the ideas that I should approach in the story. He was there for me during the moments when I was totally exhausted because it was actually a very difficult movie to shoot. Bong gave me creative inspiration and comfort and he is a good friend. I was so happy for him when he went to have great success with The Host. I even got to perform in The Host – he gave me a small cameo but I have a feeling even my closest friends might have missed it (laughs).
Would you like to make a movie like The Host?
Yes, I think I would. I like creature films and perhaps one day I will also get to make a fantastic monster movie where a creature tramples its way through Korea (laughs).
You also worked with The Host’s prominent performer Song Kang-ho on Antarctic Journal. This was just after he made a name for himself with Sympathy for Mr Vengeance - what kind of actor is he?
He is a very sharp, sensitive and warm-hearted actor. On Antarctic Journal he was a collaborator more than actor – he was like a big brother to me behind the scenes. In fact I cannot even think how the film would have been completed without him. He is not an easy actor to direct but he is someone who gives a director inspiration. I hope to work with him again someday.
Hansel and Gretel has been compared – very favourably - to such films as Pan’s Labyrinth, The Company of Wolves and The Orphanage: How do you feel about such comparisons and do you agree with them?
Well first of all I am pleased that my work is being compared to such films (laughs). It was a very long time ago when I saw the The Company of Wolves so it is hard to remember a lot about it. I do not feel like I can comment on that film so much but I think Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage are classics. How can you not be proud when your movie is mentioned in the same breath as these? I adore both of them.
Why do you think that Korean cinema is currently so popular in the West?
I think it is because creative directors and actors, creditable production companies and talented crews all pull together to make exciting new genre films like The Good, The Bad and the Weird, The Host and now Hansel and Gretel. Moreover Korean films do a great job with very small budgets – especially compared to Hollywood and all of its blockbusters. But unfortunately we have come up against some major problems recently - especially since the big distribution companies, which run multiplex theatres in Korea, have begun to follow the Hollywood system of only playing major studio movies. This is, of course, a really bad thing for us…
Did this affect Hansel and Gretel’s release in Korea at all?
Well yes, in a way, because my movie to compete with Hollywood blockbuster over the very competitive Christmas season. However, there were, and are, many fans of Hansel and Gretel and it received good critical notice as well. However some people seemed to dislike it and some writers gave it silly reviews – I think that they totally misunderstood what I was doing with it.
Details of 88 Films upcoming release are available in our Coming Soon section.
- 88 Films