The influx of Asian horror films into our midst may seem to be a herald for the future of world cinema, but with the major Hollywood studios thrusting their greedy hands into every eastern auteur they can get a hold of and forcing them to churn out garbage like Ring 2, the idea of a cross-cultural burnout could be a very real threat. With that threat in mind, the future of any genre is always left to the mercy of its fans, and as the great mantra goes, quality is always preferable to quantity. One studio truly excels at quality products for the discerning Asian cult horror fan, and that studio is Tartan Films.
One of Tartan’s latest releases is the stylish spectral story Face. The plot concerns Hyeon-min (Hyeon-jun Shin), a forensic sculptor specializing in facial reconstruction that badly needs time away to care for his young daughter, who is recovering from heart transplant complications. In the meantime, the police are desperate to track down a serial killer who is mysteriously burning his victims’ flesh away in an effort to conceal his hideous crimes. It seems that Hyeon-min is the only hope for discovering the true identities of the killers’ dead. Haunted by visions, Hyeon-min and his daughter are slowly drawn into a deadly enigma that threatens to destroy their lives. With the aid of a beautiful new assistant (Yun-ah Song), Hyeon-min must quickly unravel the puzzle and stop the killer, before the visions overtake him and his daughter.
Most of the new breeds of Asian imports have a great stylistic quality and Face proves no exception. Like Ju-on or Ringu, the film is marked by its stark cinematography and direction. Indeed the lighting itself feels as much a character in the film as Shin and Song’s performances.
From the outset, Face appears to have some problems. Most notable is that, as a viewer, watching a film about a serial killer, there is surprisingly little violence. Also, as a viewer watching a horror film, I was expecting a few scares, even cheap ones. However, Face is also lacking in the requisite jolts I was anticipating. What turns out to be most shocking about the film is that, what appears to be missing at the outset may not be as big an issue in the end.
Only after completing the film did it occur to me that I was not watching the story of the killer, or the police, or the forensic sculptor, I was watching the story of the victim, and in that story I would see the depth and breadth of human understanding. In fact, once the realization occurred, as to the outcome of the film, I found more horror in actually watching the virtually bloodless murder on screen than I ever anticipated.
If you’re looking for cheap exploitative horror, you will not find it here. If you’re looking for jump thrills, you’ll be sadly disappointed. If you are primed for some earth shattering violence, go pick up August Underground. What Face boils down to in the end is that of a simple ghost story. What elevates the film over its counterparts is its soul. It is not a story of vengeance or terror. Sure the film has elements of horror in it, but in fact it’s more of a psychological thriller than anything else. In the end, Face turns out to be nothing more or less than simply a story about the appreciation of life. Now, that may not cause horror fans to go screaming out to pick up a copy but, in this reviewer’s mind, it is a surprisingly pleasant shock.