Why I walked out of Possessed half way through

Maybe it’s because I was tired. Maybe it’s because I’m reading a particularly good book at the moment. Or maybe it’s because I arrived too late to get my favourite spot in the Spartan seating arrangements in the multi-purpose hall at the KCC1. But as I sat through the first half of Possessed2 at the KCC last night I really couldn’t get engaged in what I was seeing, and I decided to leave. Much better to sit on the tube reading my book than sit in front of a mediocre film wondering what I was doing there.

I thought that looking for hairs on the palm of your hands was the second sign of madness...
I thought that looking for hairs on the palm of your hands was the first sign of madness...

This was the first Korean film I’ve actually walked out of. I’ve come close before, and I’ve slept through a couple in my time. You know the director. Drinking sessions, failed writer trying to keep his sex life going, simple three-four soundtrack played on a piano in dire need of a good seeing-to by a competent piano tuner. Darling of the film festival circuit, I’ve tried to like him and never succeeded. But until yesterday I’ve never yet walked out on one of his or any other K-film. Closest I came was at the London Korean Film Festival 10 years ago: A Sudden Crash of Thunder, a pretentiously low-budget sex film by an unknown director in which nothing much happened, sorely tried my patience. But I guess I was still in my early flush of enthusiasm for K-film which made me want to sit through everything. And anyway, just as I decided I couldn’t take any more, the closing titles started rolling. In the same festival was Im Soon-rye’s Three Friends, Jang Jin’s Spy Lee, EJ Yong’s Jeong Sa and Park Chan-wook’s JSA, so I couldn’t really complain as to the overall quality of films.

Ten years on, I’m more cynical, and less tolerant. Possessed just seemed rather pointless. The characters seemed to behave in a particular way for no other reason than to be scary. So-jin plonks repetitively at a note in the top octave of a piano keyboard. The security guard starts shouting at the policeman as if he’s torturing a Viet Cong prisoner. Why? No reason, apart from the fact that it adds to the general atmosphere that things are weird in this particular apartment block.

There’s a moment of humour as one speculates as to how many pepperoni pizzas had to be liquidised in order to provide the goo which surrounded the security guard’s corpse – tragically, he vomited himself to death. But overall, you counted the minutes to the next time when the scary music started (usually around five). What’s under the bed? Who’s in the next room? Cue the scary music.

In an interesting double-bluff which momentarily broke the formula, the scary music starts playing as Hee-jin slowly investigates what is obviously just a coat hanging on a coat rack the other side of a frosted glass door. But just as the audience is complaining “why did you just waste 60 seconds of my life trying to get me scared by something that was so obviously just a coat”, a body hurtles past the window, neck attached to a rope.

So-jin undergoes a shamanistic ritual
So-jin undergoes a shamanistic ritual

The creepy mother praying all night is balanced out by the slightly less creepy shaman. Maybe the director was going to set up some intelligent commentary on why we should not neglect our time-honoured lore and traditional learning. But I couldn’t see this particular mudang adding anything but mumbo-jumbo to the mix. The bowl of water mysteriously wobbled as So-jin held her hands over the twin blades, and when her bloody palms were wiped the paper came away with a strange pattern. A talisman. Spooky.

Maybe things improved in the second half, but I couldn’t see it happening. And maybe the ending would explain everything. But my experience of K-horror is that I always come out totally confused as to what the film was about: the endings are usually ambiguous and fail to tie up the loose ends. Maybe Possessed is different, and now I’ll never know first hand. But I’m not sure that I care that much.

The book I’m reading? David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, about to be adapted for the big screen by the Wachowski brothers. The one in which Bae Doo-na will be playing the servant clone Sonmi-451 in a dystopian future Korea. If the film’s even half as good as the book it will be amazing.

But I might be wrong. Because so far, I’m only half way through it.

  1. Miniminimovies and HangulCelluloid had sensibly installed themselves in some proper seats in the front row. []
  2. Also known as Living Death, 불신지옥, (Lee Yong-ju, 2009). []

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