(A.k.a. HENJEL GWA GEURETEL [original title])
Eun-soo (Chun Jung-myung) is a clean-cut young salesman driving along a lonely country lane one evening, debating with his expectant partner on his mobile 'phone. This causes him to crash his car in the neck of a stretch of woods.
Upon regaining consciousness, Eun-soo wanders into the forest looking for signs of life. Before too long he happens upon a girl by the name of Young-hee (Shim Eun-kyung). She beckons him to join her to her family home situated in the heart of said woods, while dubbing it the "House of Happy Children".
Arriving at the house, Eun-soo is given the royal treatment by Young-hee, her two siblings - older brother Man-bok (Eun Won-jae) and younger sister Jung-soon (Jin Ji-hee). Not to mention, of course, their curiously attentive parents: father (Kim Kyung-ik) and mother (Jang Young-nam).
Despite this outgoing hospitality, Eun-soo feels the need to return to his normal life post-haste. But leaving is not easy. He's encouraged to stay at their isolated home, which is prettily decorated with a Christmas tree ('tis the season). He's warned that the forest is difficult to negotiate, and when he does finally get given directions ... they simply lead him back to said family home.
Initially Eun-soo believes that the children are being held against their will by their supposed parents. But a revelatory conversation with the mother, Soo-jung, reveals that she and her partner merely stumbled across this house in much the same way that Eun-soo has ... and that the kids are not to be trusted.
Sure enough, when Eun-soo wakes the following morning and asks to be led out of the woods and back into civilisation, he's escorted by Man-bok - only for his expedition to be cut short by the snowy weather, and a chance encounter with another couple of stranded adults: deacon Byun (Park Hee-soon) and his wife Kyung-sook (Lydia Park).
Soon enough, everyone is back at the house in the woods and tensions are beginning to mount. Kyung-sook isn't a nice person, and shows open greed when she sees some of the desirable treasures possessed by the kids. An altercation over this, and a missing ring, reveals something startling in Man-bok - and Eun-soo begins to realise that his thwarted attempts at leaving the house thus far are by design ...
HANSEL AND GRETEL gets stranger and stranger from this point onwards, and though my synopsis may seem brief I honestly think newcomers would benefit from knowing nothing more. Writer-director Yim Pil-sung's second feature film is a beguiling prospect; a colourful, fanciful spectacle which flirts with the dark origins of fairytale lore while subverting the plot of its source material.
The cast are uniformly excellent, as is the film in virtually all technical aspects: music, production design, visual effects, editing, photography etc. Sometimes when a film concentrates so much on style, as HANSEL AND GRETEL clearly does, the element of human drama is lost in the mix. But Yim is savvy enough to create warm characters, tangible villains and situations that we can root for. It's not quite in the same league as, say, PAN'S LABYRINTH in its balancing of the fantastic and the dramatic - but it comes close.
Above all though, HANSEL AND GRETEL is beautiful, engaging filmmaking. There is the occasional allusion to the original Brothers Grimm story (most notably, the references to leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way back) but this is inventive, original cinema which ages well after eleven years of justified celebration.
88 Films bring HANSEL AND GRETEL to UK blu-ray as part of their popular Asian range.
The film is presented uncut - 116 minutes and 57 seconds in length - and in full 1080p HD, benefitting from a nicely sized MPEG4-AVC file. The original 1.85:1 ratio is adhered to and, naturally, the HD scan presents the film in 16x9 widescreen. Colours pop off the screen; blacks are sturdy; depth is impressive; images are clean and sharp. The film has never looked more beautiful.
Korean audio is treated to a rousing, intelligently channelled 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. No complaints here; it makes for a most impressive playback indeed. English subtitles are well-written and easy to read at all times.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. Although there is no scene selection option, you can navigate your way through the film using your remote handset (if you must) by way of 11 chapters.
A highly appreciated array of fine extras kicks off with an optional 40-second HD intro to the main feature from Yim. He seems like a really affable fella who'd be fun to be around.
This is more or less confirmed in the entertaining audio commentary which is a joint effort between Yim and moderator Waddell. Waddell does a good job of prompting his subject with relevant lines of questioning, and little pushes in all the right places aimed at gently extracting further information. The commentary has a naturally chatty feel, and is scene-specific enough to clearly have been recorded in front of a viewing of the film. There's a healthy amount of laughter shared between the two too, which is always nice to hear. Yim's English is excellent.
Cinematographer Kim Ji-yong shows up for an engaging 10-minute interview. Interspersed with well-edited clips from the movie, this finds the young-looking technician mulling over subjects such as shooting at night, contending with unreliable weather forecasts, his own views on the film, how it was initially received by critics, how he's developed professionally since working on this, and so on. Ji-yong is a likeable character, and speaks good English, in this new HD featurette.
Visual Effects director Jung-seong-jin then features in an archive 10-minute interview, presented here in pillar-boxed standard definition. This is in Korean with burned-in English subtitles, and incorporates a wealth of most welcome behind-the-scenes footage as the FX co-ordinator appears to talk at an alarming rate. This is mainly an expose on the amount of (expert) CG used in the film.
Oh, go on then 88 Films, why not also throw in an archive 14-minute interview with production designer Ryu Seong-hie? Again pillar-boxed and presented in standard definition, these finds the cheery Ryu tackling everything from keeping her crew happy, combating prejudices when it comes to perceptions of how Koreans approach making fantasy films, working in an FX-heavy environment, her close working relationship with the director, and more.
Two trailers follow: an 84-second "teaser", and the original 105-second variant. Both are framed on all four sides by black bars but are perfectly watchable - and equipped with English subtitles.
This release also comes with double-sided cover artwork and additional slipcase packaging.
A sterling release. Well done, 88 Films.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by 88 Films|