Maybe I've been ignoring Korean films for too long because I've seen some good things coming from those regions lately. From the first time I laid eyes on the promotional artwork this films sparked some interest, but I never bothered to pursue that interest. Luckily I finally did get around to seeing the film as this is right up my alley.
Hansel and Gretel is many things and is being marketed as many more. Sadly some people try to tag this film to the Asian horror wave, yet the film is pretty different in tone and execution. Some similar elements to Korean(/Asian) horror films are definitely present but in the end the film presents itself more like a darker fantasy.
Comparing this film to others is not an easy thing. It reminded me of quite a few other films but never as a whole. The setup is somewhat similar to Calvaire, the styling of the film has more than a little of Survive Style 5+ and the atmosphere could've been borrowed from a Korean Burton. But none of those references seem sufficient to describe Hansel and Gretel. In the end it draws its unique flavor from mixing all these influences and making them its own.
The film starts off like many Western films do. A guy in a car in a forest on a mountain road. Car crash anyone? But when Eun-Soo wakes up he sees a girl dressed up like Little Red Ridinghood. When he reaches her house he is confronted by a family of fairytale people, but looking and acting a little off. From those first scenes there's already a pretty weird atmosphere present.
The styling of the house and its inhabitants its absolutely lush, with plenty of attention to detail. Colors are flying off the screen and even though the frame is filled with toys and other colorful objects, the house is meticulously clean. It's these kind of things that help to establish the uneasy atmosphere from the start of the film.
As the story progresses the tone becomes gradually darker, as does the styling. The candy-colors never really fade but are often overshadowed by darker tones. It takes a while to get a good grip on the story as more and more elements are introduced to the film and certainly not all of them fit well together from the start, but about halfway through you should have a good idea of what the hell is going on.
Visually this is a very consistent film, with pretty awesome camera work and a great sense of color. Not unusual for Korean films but surprisingly the editing is not so intervening as to kill the atmosphere. There is plenty of time to admire all the visual sweetness, which has been known to be otherwise in Korean cinema.
The soundtrack too is effective and to the point. No high drama bombast to kill the atmosphere but good film music that aids the feel of the film. It's good to see that for a change the atmosphere of the film is kept consistent and is given room to develop itself. Something the film gratefully makes use of to crawl under your skin.
While the revealing of the mystery is nothing too special and the film knows its share of typical Korean taboo-breaking weirdness, it's that very mysterious, dark and fantasy-like atmosphere that gives the film enough momentum to easily swing past these little imperfections. In the end, Hansel and Gretel is a rather special experience that leaves a solid mark in the world of film.
Rather than call it a horror film, it's a dark fantasy mixed with drama and a touch of horror elements. The film is well acted, looks extremely lush and flies by in no time. And while many parts seem influenced by other films, the mix is completely unique and fresh. A very nice film and interesting take on fairy tale antics.