2 August 2005 | wkduffy
"Premonition" Is A Shadow Of What Once Was...
Someone feel free to call BS on this, but it seems that as soon as J-Horror became self-conscious (and subsequently donned the moniker J-Horror), the genre films coming out of Asia have become less and less effective...interesting...engrossing...OK, scary.
For evidence, all you need to do is watch the two self-consciously titled J-Horror flicks, "Yogen" and "Kansen," and compare them to earlier Asian horror entries (any of the Kurosawa films, "Uzumaki," "Temegotchi," or even "Jisatsu Circle"). I guess it's the same cautionary-evolutionary tale of "alternative entertainment" becoming the Walmart-driven norm. (Uh-oh, I've blown my cover; I am a bitter old man after all.)
At the risk of sounding clichéd and nostalgic, once upon a time, contemporary Asian horror was largely uncharted territory for us folks in the US. It was a wild landscape, filled with dread and darkness (and some real characters and some real sadness). As non-Hollywood product that had to be procured carefully and watched on a region-free DVD player that you couldn't buy at Walmart, Asian horror flicks had that ineffable, mysterious WOW FACTOR. I remember thinking, 'Supernatural horror is BACK!' Seven years ago, I called it that "Omigod that longhair chick is not actually going to climb outta that damn television" effect. Horror was new again, it had teeth again, and I could watch a horror film made by someone other than Wes Craven or one of his idiot minions and actually get the crap scared out of me.
But I guess all good things must come to pass. For example, I bought this DVD at Walmart. (OK, that is entirely irrelevant.) To its credit, "Yogen" (Premonition) tries very hard to embrace that real Asian horror of a decade ago. It conjures up vulnerable characters as best it can; it slathers in the pathos of burnt-children-ghosts desperately calling out their parent's names at midnight; it infuses itself with jump shots of trucks appearing out of nowhere to pulverize innocent pedestrians; it even has people turning into black, ashy marks on the walls and floors as they mysteriously pass from this world into oblivion (I hope Kurosawa gave permission for that one!).
But regardless of its flawless twists and turns, fine acting, and solid visuals....it just comes up flat. Don't get me wrong: "Yogen" has the melodrama, detailed apocalyptic storyline, and even a little bit of the "ick" factor. But when it comes right down to it, "Yogen" simply does not have the chops. Yes, we've got the wide-eyed male protagonist who is at turns weepy and angry, the steely female lead who is determined to understand the supernatural secret of the "fear newspaper," and the victims who have nasty things happen to them (acts which are never entirely justified or understandable of course--gotta love that hopeless, random Asian horror!).
But "Yogen" ends up being only a shadow of the many truly terrifying films that preceded it. I realize that my comment here may be less a movie review and more a statement about my own jaded plane of existence. In fact, there may be nothing wrong with "Yogen" at all. Those discovering the newfangled-named J-Horror for the first time will probably be swept into its depressing, hopeful, sad, unpredictable realm. But for those of us who have been riding the wave of Asian horror (which some say crashed to the shore half a decade ago)--well, we just need to make sure we don't get pulled down by the undertow. (And Jennifer Connelley was absolutely fine in the "Dark Water" remake; but I still prefer the convoluted original...apologies.)
EPILOGUE: So, I hear that Kurosawa's "Kairo/Pulse" is being remade by an American director and is being cast as a "punk" flick of some kind. Hmmm, I hate to say it, but methinks I've got a lot of heartbreak coming down the pike.