Tuesday, 10 March 2015


You may think that you're familiar with the story of Hansel And Gretel but here's a question for you, what would have happened if Hansel And Gretel were forever trapped in the dark woods? It's a question that director Yim Phil-Sung sets out to answer in his fantasy horror movie that rips out the pages of reality and throws them into the oven.

In the Grimm Brothers' folk tale the two young children find their way back home after pushing the evil witch into a burning furnace. But like the Grimm's version of Snow White before it, as seen in the movie A Tale Of Terror as opposed to the all-singing all-dancing Disney version, the cookie dough ending thinly disguises a tale dripping in tragedy and torment. 

With Hansel And Gretel we discover a bleaker tale of poverty, at a time where parents were forced to abandon their children because they couldn’t afford to raise them. And though the film is described as fantasy horror, don't be fooled into thinking that this is yet another tale of calcium deficient dead folk. There are very few formulaic scares to be found here. This is a psychological tale of abandoned children and the love they never had. A grim(m) tale indeed, but one that will get under your skin all the same.

Chun Jeong Myung stars as Eun Soo, who crashes his car and wakes up in the middle of a dark forest. Here he meets a red-cloaked girl who guides him to her candy-covered house (okay so I made that up, but there are plenty of treats to be found inside) where he meets the rest of the family. In this version there are three children not two, and the young actors continue the current trend for memorable performances by creepy kids in Korean horror. 

It soon becomes apparent that there is no contact with the outside world, even though the house is always filled with new toys, sweets, and (un)imaginable goodies. Things get worse for Eun Soo when he fails repeatedly to escape the beautiful setting and comes across a whole host of absurdities along the way. Such as fiendish grown ups, human dolls that implode with the slightest touch and Father Christmas!?!

First things first, the production design is stunning, but that's to be expected from Ryu Seong-hee, who also brought Old Boy and The Host to life on the big screen. The opening act is incredibly strong as Yim Phil-Sung introduces us to his fairy tale world and a whole host of weird and wonderful creations, not least his excellent young cast. He fills the screen with intrigue and curiosity and doesn't let go until the final unforgettable, unapologetic twist.

The film spreads its wings in the second act, adding layers that occasionally threaten - but never quite manage - to drown the movie under the weight of its own ambition. It's all very enjoyable of course, even if the answers that do come aren't as fulfilling as one would like them to be. There are a few bug bites that start to itch, for example, the need for the children to keep repeating themselves. They’re not bad kids after all. Hansel & Gretel does lack a definitive punchline, but you could also argue that sometimes less is more.

A twisted take on a well-known tale, Hansel And Gretel is a candy-covered delight for grown-ups. If you enjoyed A Tale Of Two Sisters you could do far worse. Just don't forget the breadcrumbs.

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