The Uninvited (4 Inyong Shiktak)
Director/Screenplay – Su Yeon-Lee, Producer – Jung Won-Oh, Photography – Yeong-Gyu Jo, Music – Yeong-Gyu Jang, Production Design – Eun-Yeong Jeon. Production Company – CJ Entertainment/B.O.M. Film/Sidus HQ
Shin-Yang Park (Kwan Jung-won), Ji-Hyun Jun (Yun Jung), Seon Yu (Hee-un), Won-Sang Park (Moon-Sub Park), Jeong Uk (Mr Kwan), Kim Yeo-jin (Jung-Sook Moon)
Jung-won is an interior designer preparing for his wedding. He is troubled after seeing two children in the train and realises later that they were the ghosts of children who were murdered by their mother. He also has visions of two children who appear at his dining room table. He gives Yun Jung a ride home from his father’s church only for her to collapse from narcolepsy near his apartment. He takes her inside to recover. As her husband comes to collect her, she comments that he should put the children to bed. Realising that she can see the ghosts too, he begs her for help. She is unwilling but a friendship gradually grows between them. She has an ability to help him remember the first seven years of his life that are a blank to him and doing so starts to uncover the horrors he has blanked out. At the same time, he becomes aware of the horror in Yun Jung’s past where she was witness to her mentally ill neighbour dropping two children from the balcony of the apartment above her.
South Korean cinema has become a force to be reckoned with in the last decade. South Korean horror cinema has taken off during this period with many hits jumping aboard and often blatantly imitating the fad for J-horror popularised by the success of the Japanese Ring (1998). These have included often striking efforts like their own version of Ring with The Ring Virus (1999), Nightmare (2000), Into the Mirror (2003), Phone (2003), A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), Dead Friend/The Ghost (2004), Face (2005), The Red Shoes (2005), Cinderella (2006) and White (2011), along with the big international hit of Train to Busan (2016), while Park Chan-wook had huge breakthrough hits in the West with Oldboy (2003) and Thirst (2009).
The Uninvited – not related or to be confused with the classic ghost story The Uninvited (1944) or any of the dozen or so other horror films with the same title, including The Uninvited (2009), the English-language remake of A Tale of Two Sisters – is a Korean horror film that takes obvious influence from Ring. It clearly construes itself to be some type of epic of the Asian horror genre, with a plot that stretches out over the two-hour mark. It is a beautifully made film with some lovely cinematography that adds much to the mood that director Su Yeon-Lee creates.
It is just that on another level, The Uninvited drags. This is a film that would be well serviced by a US remake, which would undoubtedly tighten the plot considerably and eliminate the vague and unclear aspects (while probably pumping it up with a number of gratuitous shocks). For quite some time in, nothing much happens. The film is slow going and hard to work out where everything is leading. Much of the first 40 minutes follows Shin-Yang Park’s interior designer. Then comes the introduction of Ji-Hyun Jun’s character where we expect her to emerge as something akin to the lead character in The Eye (2002). However, that never happens and we are never sure how she can see the dead children as the film doglegs off to explore the issues of her trauma over witnessing a neighbour dropping two children from the balcony. Equally, hero Shin-Yang Park sees two children on a train and there is a news report about them being murdered by their mother and we expect this to be an element that features later in the film but it is not ever mentioned again. We are never certain if these are the same two children that keep appearing at his dinner table, as this phenomenon is never given an explanation. The story has the two characters coming together – the relationship is well developed, if one that takes a long time to get there – where she helps him come to terms with his blanked-out memory. However, it is part of the film’s frustrating vagueness that even though we do receive flashbacks to the past, it is still not clear what happened or why Shin-Yang Park blanked out his memory of it.
There is some style to Su Yeon-Lee’s direction and he does create an undeniable atmosphere – particularly the hallucinatory shot where Ji-Hyun Jun witnesses a person jump past her apartment balcony and can see their eyes blink in slow-motion closeup. It is Su’s hand that helps boost the ending where [PLOT SPOILERS] Ji-Hyun Jun, feeling rejected by Shin-Yang Park, goes up to the roof and jumps past his balcony so that he can see if her story about eyes blinking in passing is true. There is a final haunting coda where he is alone in his apartment and sits down at the table where she and the two children come and join him.