AKA Into the Mirror
Director: Sung-ho Kim
Starring: Ji-tae Yu, Myeong-min Kim, Hye-na Kim, Ju-bong Gi, Myoeng-su Kim, Young-jin Lee, Eun-pyo Jeong
(out of 4)
Geoul sokeuro, the South Korean horror mystery that we’ll refer to from here on as Into the Mirror, is a movie that isn’t sure what it wants to be. In a sense, it suffers from a split personality similar to the one it deals with – it wants to be half detective drama and half supernatural ghost story, and it almost succeeds, except that the drama part is so drawn out to the point of tedium that I welcomed any supernatural occurrence to help break up the monotony. The real point though, is that the elements and camera trickery used to depict the movie’s supernatural happenings – in this case mirrors – should have been used in a more psychological sense. Instead, we must take it as a given that a ghost can enter our world through the mirror image; a better idea would have been to leave it up to the audience to decide that.
The movie begins in a department store that is about to re-open after a fire that occurred a year earlier. A woman employee, who also happens to be a klepto, is getting ready to leave when she is apparently killed by her own reflection in the mirror. Enter Woo Yeong-min (played by Ji-tae Yu), chief of security at the store, who used to be a detective but quit after being indirectly reponsible for the death of his partner. (He tried to shoot the bad guy holding his partner hostage but instead shot at a mirror out of confusion). After a few other employees end up dead (killed by their reflections) Woo and the police, led by Heo Hyeon-su (Myeong-min Kim), begin separate investigations, occasionally bumping heads. (Heo still blames Woo for the partner’s death). Thrown in the mix is a woman who supposedly died in the fire (Lee Jeong-hyeon) and her twin sister Lee Ji-hyeon , just out of the mental hospital. Of course, the twin claims that the image she sees in the mirror is not really her reflection but her dead sister. So we have a disgraced detective, filled with guilt, faced with an opportunity to get his honor back, much angst on the part of the major characters, greedy owners who just want to open up the store again, and some foul play behind the scenes suggesting that Jeong-hyeon didn’t really die by accident.
Director Sung-ho Kim makes very clever use of mirrors, although I never really wondered too much about how the visual effects were achieved. For example, if a person’s mirror image starts moving around I can usually guess that the person outside the mirror is a double. What impressed me, though, was the fact that Sung-ho Kim hid his cameras so well! The idea of the “other” in the mirror has been explored before – I specifically remember John Carpenter’s Prince Of Darkness (which, like this film, suggests another reality on the other side of the mirror) and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 (where Ash’s mirror image jumps out at him). A character in the film suggests that the mirror represents a second world with a second ego, as perceived by someone with a split personality. The person suffering the split thinks he is seeing two different (symmetrical) worlds. “The person is psychologically divided in two”. This explanation seems to fit in with the WTF ending (think of Silent Hill instead of The Sixth Sense), but then how come the movie bends over backwards to show us ghosts? And why have the ghost use mirrors anyway when the movie makes it clear that the ghost can manipulate objects and come into our reality at will?
I still enjoyed Into the Mirror more than the usual Asian ghost story, which too often likes to use long haired creepy girls (the Ringu phenomenon) for the spook factor. The movie covers interesting ground but there’s just not enough of it, as if the creators didn’t truly believe in their mirror-world hokum and tried to keep distance from it as long as possible so they can bring us a melodramatic detective story. I can’t completely blame them, as the supernatural elements are scattershot and never really come together in the confusing ending. Sure, the ending is neat, but it’s nonsensical. I am hoping that the American remake (Mirrors) starring Kiefer Sutherland tones down the ghost and gets more psychological. But who am I kidding – the thing is directed by Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension, The Hills Have Eyes remake) a guy not exactly known for subtlety.