Posted by: asianfilmreviews | August 26, 2009

The Ring Virus (1999)


The_Ring_VirusThe Ring Virus – 링 바이러스

Director: Kim Dong-Bin (김동빈)

Cast: Shin Eun-Kyeong (신은경), Lee Seung-Hyeon (이승현), Jeong Jin-Yeong (정진영), Bae Du-Na (배두나)

The Ring Virus is a curious film. A hot-on-the-heels follow-up to Hideo Nakata’s Ring, this film is proof that adherence to the source material, Koji Suzuki’s original novel in this case, does not always produce a superior film. Less scary and even more self-serious than the original film, The Ring Virus follows journalist Sun-Joo as she tries to uncover why her niece and three of her friends died mysterious deaths at the same time but in different locales. What follows is the now-typical investigative framework wherein Sun-Joo comes into possession of a video tape that kills those who watch it and attempts to get to the bottom of its origin. The film is well-intentioned in its horror ambitions, and it certainly beats a lot of the torture porn and downright silly horror that is currently available from any number of countries, but it’s a little too sedate and generally less polished than its Japanese predecessor. But hey, it beats the hell out of the later American remake if that makes a difference to anyone.

When we first meet Sun-Joo (Shin Eun-Kyeong), she is covering an art exhibition where the gallery owner is displaying paintings of hermaphrodites which symbolize the qualities of men and women combined into one being. It’s an ominous beginning that quite literally frames the film in terms of its plot and allegorical subtext. She is soon shaken out of her current frame of mind by news that her niece has died in a most mysterious fashion. As if this tragedy itself wasn’t enough, Sun-Joo learns that three friends of her niece died at the exact same time, in the exact same manner, but in different locations. To get some sense of what happened in their final days, Sun-Joo visits the resort cabin where the teens vacationed 7 days prior to their death. It is there where she comes into possession of a mysterious videotape, the source of an urban legend among many people wherein if you watch it, you will die exactly seven days later.

The first act is familiar to anyone who has seen the Japanese film or the American remake. But whereas the lead actress’ companion in the original film is her ex-husband, Sun-Joo’s investigation leads her to Choi Yeol (Jeong Jin-Yeong), a sort of discounted doctor who believes supernatural forces were at work in the teens’ deaths. She makes him a copy of the videotape to watch, and they subsequently investigate it frame-by-frame in the hopes it might lead them to discover its origin, or at least its maker. Take a look at the spooky video here:


The Bunuel-esque nature of the video is thankfully left intact, and its examination serves as the lead-in to the film’s final act as Sun-Joo and Choi Yeol take a boat out to a remote island where the video might have been created by Park Eun-Suh (Bae Du-Na, this film’s Sadako), a young psychic who met a mysterious end. But it’s around this time that the film’s weaknesses become apparent. It adheres more to the original book, which is fine, but if it’s purpose is to attempt a deeper focus on Eun-Suh’s psychology and motive for creating the tape in the first place, it fails miserably, abandoning much of the Japanese version’s provocative imagery for more abstract, shock-based scares.

I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but I’m going to discuss a major one here. So please stop reading here if you want to go into this movie with a spoiler-free perspective.

True to the original story, Park Eun-Suh, in addition to being a psychic, is a hermaphrodite – the primary reason for which she is killed and thrown down a well. The gender implications are downright staggering, but the film fails to explore them to any great degree. When Eun-Suh is sexually assaulted, her biological irregularities come to light and she is promptly disposed of right then in there (as seen in flashback form). Her widespread revenge via the videotape, then, seems out of place as the film doesn’t convey the sense that she was wronged by anyone other than her murderer. This is in contrast to the Japanese version where Sadako, who is never humanized yet constantly vilified, is criminalized by society at large. Added to this is the fact that Eun-Suh is just not that creepy. It’s not Bae Du-Na’s fault, but rather the fault of the filmmakers as they try to get us to sympathize with the film’s inhuman antagonist as she exacts revenge from beyond her watery grave. In doing so, the filmmakers are trying to have it both ways: a depiction of an intolerant society (or in this film’s case, one intolerant man) AND a supernatural horror story. A note to the filmmakers: if you want us to be afraid of a character, then don’t spend a great deal of time trying to get us to first feel sorry for her. Sometimes ambiguity can work to a film’s advantage. We don’t need to know the origin of the Joker in The Dark Knight, and thankfully Christopher Nolan didn’t attempt to explain it. We don’t need to know the detailed background of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, and thankfully Jonathan Demme didn’t attempt to explain it (unfortunately, idiot filmmaker Peter Webber thought we DID need to know when he made Hannibal Rising). Ambiguity works to draw us into the character AND make us frightened of that character at the same time. Think about the use of closeups in film. Closeups are used to allow us a glimpse into a character’s emotional state. They’re a way to learn about a character beyond what that character does and says. In the Japanese version of Ring, we are never given a chance to look at Sadako’s face, thus we are completely withdrawn from her, and she from us.

Film is a totally different medium than print. What works well in one medium may not work in the other. Whereas the original novel could afford to take its time in developing the characters and do so in a more methodical fashion, the filmmakers in this case simply don’t have that luxury, choosing instead to give in to the expectations placed on commercial horror films. As such, in addition to the film’s narrative shortcomings, it all just feels very… pasted together. The performances are lackluster and wholly unemotional, while the visual style is just generic and uninspired. And I’m sorry, but any film that breaks the 180 degree rule (unless it’s making some sort of artistic statement) gets a red flag in my book. Take a look:


The 180 degree rule basically states that when filming, the camera should stay within a 180 degree arc to film the line of action to maintain easily identifiable screen direction. If the camera cuts to the other side, then the direction has abruptly changed to the detriment of the audience. Think of a football game on TV: one team goes right, the other goes left (until the second half, when they change up sides). So in the clip above, notice how the film cuts from Choi Yeol looking to the LEFT of the screen to Choi Yeol looking to the RIGHT. Obviously it’s meant to cut to Sun-Joo’s perspective as she looks at him, but the combination of lighting (a totally different scheme) and angle (she wasn’t that far away so as to get a bust shot of him) defy that intention, and the fact that the camera jumps to the other side of the 180 degree arc in doing so spells shoddy filmmaking. Perhaps these two equally shoddy illustrations can demonstrate what I’m talking about (note: the green is the field, the tan strip is the path on which the characters are walking, and the black line represents the line of action):

the camera is position within the right 180 degree arc

Shot 1: the camera is positioned within the right 180 degree arc

Shot 2: the camera is now within the left 180 degree arc

Shot 2: the camera is now within the left 180 degree arc

There may not be any movement along the plane of action in the midst of the cut, but to really get a sense of how bad this cut is, I put together a little experiment. Watch this:


What I did is to take a few seconds of the first shot (Choi Yeol looking LEFT) and insert it into the second shot (Choi Yeol looking RIGHT) before it starts raining. What effect does that have on the scene? It looks like he’s looking at himself! This is filmmaking 101. Shot-Reverse-Shot editing works great as a foundational editing framework… when you’re dealing with TWO distinct characters, but not when you’re dealing with the same character. *Sigh*


Responses

  1. I was always kind of interested in seeing some of the other Ring films, maybe I’m a little less interested now! HAHA!

  2. Haha, yeah, the original is still the best one. The American versions are just downright funny, and even the other Japanese versions (Ring 2, Rasen) don’t live up to the first one.


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