Friday, February 4, 2011

Movie Review: "Unborn But Forgotten"

It's thanks to my boyfriend that I made my first foray into Korean cinema. We continued that tradition a couple days ago with the acquisition of three new movies for his K-movie collection:

  • Arahan
  • Unborn But Forgotten
  • The Wig

Last night we watched Unborn But Forgotten, or Hayanbang (하얀방). I think, with the possible exception of 2009 Lost Memories, this is one of the worst Korean movies I've ever seen. It was bad enough for me to feel compelled to complain about it on the Internet!

Right off the bat, the title is a goofy, not-quite-Konglish translation. 하얀방 means "White Room," which refers to the name of the killer website in the movie. My beef isn't that the title isn't a literal translation of the Korean, though. This is par for the course in Korean movies. Rather, my beef is that the English title makes no sense. Yes, it makes grammatical sense, but "Unborn But Not Forgotten" would make more aesthetic sense. (And, in fact, there's a reference to just that line in the movie.) Or even "Unborn And Forgotten." That should have been the first warning sign. But Todd David Schwartz of CBS Radio assured us that "It'll make your blood run cold," or so the cover said, so onward we pressed.

After a brief sort of prologue, where a pregnant woman, wearing a nightgown while taking a bath gets brutally attacked (killed?), the movie jumps right into things: women visit a website and die 15 days later after injuries sustained from a bizarro, instant onset of phantom pregnancy. Men remain unaffected, presumably due to their lack of a womb. A cool concept with loads of potential, honestly. Other movie reviews spit on the concept as being too much of a Ringu derivative, but any horror movie with a technological spin is going to be compared to Ringu, fairly or no. The only substantial similarity is a time limit and (presumably) a revenge element, and I'm willing to overlook those as being "inspired by."

TV reporter Su-jin stumbles upon the incidents by accident, while filming a documentary style newspiece about a detective in Seoul's cyber crimes unit. It's only when, worried she might be pregnant with her TV anchor boyfriend's baby, she searches for a women's clinic that she actually finds "The White Room" website. Surprise! You're cursed!

Straightforward so far, but it's about to get convoluted and lazy. Su-jin moves into the apartment where one of the women died, which the landlord says people don't stay long because they complain of noises. Now that someone's died there, he laments, no one will want to live there!

Except another woman (who lives in the same complex?), who had clicked on the site and survived beyond her 15-day time limit (due to extraordinary psychic powers?), who has tried to move in, too. But for whatever reason, Su-jin manages to swing it. She also befriends Vaguely Psychic Lady in the process.

Now, the movie opened with an attack (a death?) in the prologue; you've figured out by now that it took place in this apartment. But a ghost-pregnant woman (the first you encounter in the movie) died in here, too; according to her old roommate, ghost-pregnant lady felt strangely compelled to move into that apartment for whatever reason. The same reason that drives Su-jin, presumably (though not ALL of the ghost-pregnant women die there, one dies at a nightclub right on the dance floor).

Fortunately for us, Su-jin is an intrepid reporter (and has the cybercop Detective Choi to help her out) and actually makes something of an effort to find out about the previous, died-in-the-prologue tenant, whose belongings are still in the apartment. The biggest clue comes in the way of a painting, which leads Su-jin to an art student described as a mildly autistic orphan.

Turns out the Little Oprhan Autie that Su-jin found was a really gifted artist in school. After graduation, though, she met a guy and started dating and stopped painting as much and oops! Got pregnant. Her best friend and the boyfriend both told her to get an abortion, but she decided to keep it. Detective Choi and Su-jin find the hospital where she was admitted, and a nurse there confirms that Little Orphan Autie (accompanied by a nameless, genderless friend) was eight months pregnant and ready to give birth, though the baby was confirmed to be stillborn. The nurse casually mentions that Little Oprhan Autie came in with bruises on her abdomen. Anyway, the baby is born via C-section, though very very dead, but Little Orphan Autie insists on having the remains.

Oh, and at some point, Su-jin's TV anchor and douchebag extraordinaire boyfriend visits her in this apartment and flips out at the painting, which very clearly perturbs him. See where this is going?

This is where shit stops making sense. By now, it's clear that the woman attacked/murdered in the prologue is Little Oprhan Autie (and heavily implied that Anchor Douchebag was the one who did it). But the woman murdered in the beginning was pregnant, so how could she then be admitted to the hospital, alive, to give birth? Okay, so she wasn't killed in the prologue, just her baby was. But then when and how did Little Orphan Autie die? Was Little Orphan Autie not actually pregnant anymore when she was killed?

Because, see, she had to have survived long enough to build a complex shrine to the baby's remains in a strangely large crawlspace that Su-jin finds after mucking about with the ceiling tiles in the bathroom. She could have not died at all, maybe, except that after her miscarriage, she's dropped off the face of the earth and isn't in contact with any of her close friends. Everyone Su-jin interviews talks about Little Orphan Autie like she's dead, but the movie gives no cause or timeline to work out. Was it last year? Last month? Five years ago? The movie never bothers giving any hints or even answering those questions outright. The shrine is well-constructed enough, with dolls and decorations and a tape recording of a woman singing Brahms' Lullaby, to suggest that this wasn't the harebrained scheme of a dying woman. It took time and effort.

Su-jin and her vaguely psychic friend scatter the ashes of the baby over a lake and assume it's all over...BUT IT'S NOT.

Vaguely Psychic Friend dies of the same ghost pregnancy; Su-jin, convinced she's pregnant, or going to die, or both, goes mental. She stocks up on baby supplies, talks to the ghost baby (who just wants to be loved!) and then decides she needs a nice long bath. In a nightgown.

While she's bathing, Anchor Douchebag arrives and they have a really creepy confrontation. Both of them are unhinged, though in different directions. Right as a psychotic Anchor Douchebag raises his scissors in a menacing gesture towards Su-jin's maybe-pregnant belly, she gives birth to the phantom baby. This time, some kind of actual physical baby crawls out. Detective Choi arrives just in time to kill Anchor Douchebag, torn between stabbing his girlfriend or stabbing the demon-baby. Su-jin, for some reason, survives, presumably because Anchor Douchebag is dead?

That final scene is really the only scary part of the entire movie. Everything else is more of a plodding, dimly-lit whodunnit: who lived in the apartment, what happened to her, who was the baby daddy, etc. Only it's a fairly predictable whodunnit, so not even that aspect is all that satisfying. And the plotholes in the story are too glaring to be ignored:

1. If it's the ghost of Little Orphan Autie girl that's behind the deaths, why would she punish women? Wouldn't she instead go after the man who killed her baby (and possibly her)?

2. I've already voiced my complaints about the timeline of Little Orphan Autie's death.

3. Why can Purple Dress (the first ghost-related death we see) and Su-jin get access to Little Orphan Autie's apartment, but Vaguely Psychic Lady can't?

4. Vaguely spooky shit happens with no follow-ups or explanations: while Choi's nosing around the server room for the webhost of"The White Room," lights swing and the power flickers. Su-jin sees a ghostly pair of feet under a sheet but then nothing's really there, of course! The movie ends with a flashback where Detective Choi encounters Little Orphan Autie and then, inexplicably, a little girl with a creepy smile. Both are dressed in white (intentionally connecting them to the killer website?). Is the little girl a random spirit? Is it the dead baby? Are we to assume that the killer baby ghost was a girl and would have been THIS little girl in real life, had she not died? This is probably the biggest problem with the movie: it's basically a series of scenes where weird or spooky stuff happens, strung together with the thinnest, most incoherent of stories.

5. How did Little Orphan Autie and Anchor Douchebag even meet? What's their backstory? We get nothing except that Little Orphan Autie would sometimes present him with paintings.

6. If it's the act of giving birth to the phantom baby that kills the women, why does Su-jin survive?

I will grant that we did watch it pretty late at night, so I might have missed some key expository points due to fatigue. But the end is still absolutely incoherent, and the Internet seems to agree.

I guess you can read some kind of sociological commentary on South Korea's ostracism of single mothers on to the movie, to try and prop it up with meaning, but at the end of the day, it's just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

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