A ghost story without a ghost, SORUM seduces us into admitting the dark truth we knew all along -- the scariest thing out there is the darkness of our own minds. What the human being is capable of doing under duress, the fever fantasies we imagine, and what depths of depravity we descend when our survival is threatened, are the meat of this disturbingly profound, wonderfully suggestive attack against our expectations and values. At heart a psychological thriller, this elegantly told and carefully structured nightmare evokes the awe of a supernatural story without veering wholly into occult territory. SORUM doesn’t raise demons from a mythical Hell because it doesn’t need to. Instead it strips bare the very real, deadly darkness of our psyches. The effect is both exhilarating and heartbreaking.
Myeong-min Kim stars as Young-hyun, a cab driver, who moves into a small, shadow-draped apartment, a place haunted by its denizens’ tragic histories. Discovering that the last resident died under strange circumstances in a fire, Young-hyun’s fragmented life, full of emotional isolation and internal conflict, is mirrored by a host of residents whose morose longings rank them alongside the frailty of Polanski’s THE TENANT. This motley crew of walking shadows -- people who may as well be dead for all their self-worth -- include an unsuccessful publisher, a secretive young woman, and Jin-Young Jang as an abused wife. When he starts a relationship with the later, the intensity developing between them mirrors the morose atmosphere of their surroundings, evoking the secrets that lurk within their minds and tragedies made spectral flesh in the limo-like environment of the complex. As secrets imbed themselves like hooks into these troubled people, and the past asserts a deadly malignance on the present, the darkest of tragedies is unearthed not from the grave or spectral, but within the human heart.
A study of character, place, and mood, SORUM is everything a good ghost story should be -- even though no ghost is presented, at least not in the traditional sense. Rather, the specters haunting characters in this drama are memories, weapons from the past. Time is just as much an enemy in this chiller as the shadowy realm of the unknown that coats each of Young-hyun’s neighbors in an aura of mystery and malevolence, reaching out from bloodstained pasts to cripple the present. While many critics took the film to task for not delivering a simplistic spook show, the very refusal of director Jang Jin-Young to let the audience off by giving them an ‘other’ to fear is what makes this Asian fear-feast so very worthwhile as both entertainment and art. While moments of the supernatural and more traditional horror elements are suggested within the confines of a moodily depicted reality, the strongest sense of evil depicted here is in the everyday actions of people. A ghost or other fantastical creature would allow the audience aesthetic and emotional distance, freeing them from responsibility, while anchoring evil in the hearts and minds of characters disturbingly close to ourselves makes the terror twice as effective.
A drifter with a small moral center, Yong-hyun is as secretive, haunted, and disturbed at heart as the depleted apartment building he moves into. The director manipulates us masterfully through the suggestive dimensions of this subversive script, suggesting far more through characterization and thematic subtext than he says outright. We are purposely kept in the dark about Young-Hyun’s life, for he is as much a mystery as the ‘haunted’ house, or the doomed folks languishing within, who is he? What is his attraction to the building? What sort of man is he? These and other aspects of his identity move the film along. A mirror of sorts, Sun-yeong (Jeong Jin-yeong), the young woman living down the hallway, is trapped in an abusive marriage; she is as bruised inside as out, and in no time the two of them sense something familiar in one another. Joined by murder, they are also pilgrims wandering the karmic highway of justice. We feel from the beginning that they are doomed in the tradition of all tragic lovers. The depths with which these characters are explored, and the believability of the performances, add power to an already memorable story. Using the camera as a shadow, the director lurks the morose interior of the building just as craftily as he captures the suggestive nuances of fate.
A wonder of suggestion and subtlety, SORUM is as effective for what it doesn’t try to do as for what it does, wisely avoiding the hackneyed clichéd fables of vengeful wraiths and exploitation staples of blood, breasts and beasts. Defying the trend-setting pleasures of perversion established in such meatier films as A LIVING HELL or EVIL DEAD TRAP, SORUM also refuses to wade in the mystical pool of RINGU and its clones. As brave as it is lyrical, the movie is most impressive in its unapologetic embrace of pessimism - an element lacking too often in the lackluster, soulless sentimentality of Hollywood. There are no tack-on false happy endings here! Director Yun should be commended for his devotion to the poetics of storytelling, following his doomed narrative to its grim conclusion. Of further interest is Yun’s externalization of his character’s souls. An always active camera captures the broken, somber feeling of the apartment building, and its easy to see that deteriorated walls mirror crippled souls -- both of which are allowed time to reveal their hidden natures. One of the rare examples where a horror movie is more memorable for its performances and social criticism than for its surface scares, SORUM digs deep beneath your conscious . . . and stays there!
Picture is vivid and clean, without grain or distortion in this widescreen 1.85:1 print. The shadow-filled frames enhance the dark moodiness of the characters, and the sound, in DTS surround sound and Dolby 5.1, do an excellent job, with additional English and Spanish subtitles. Extras include a “Making Of” featurette, which explores the process of filmmaking in a series of interviews with cast and crew, and behind-the scenes moments. Discussing everything from life- casting FX to the enthusiasm behind the scenes, this supplement is concise and informative. A photo gallery and trailers for other Asia Extreme releases complete the package. A serviceable presentation of a mature psychological nightmare!
William P. Simmons
Directed by Jang Jin-Young
South Korea / 2001 / 112 Minutes /
“Making Of” Sorum including Interviews with Director and Actress
A Tartan Asia Extreme release
Region 1 / NSTC / Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1