"When I first changed, when I was scared and lonely, Jinee was the only one who opened up to me.
If it hadn't been for her, I could have turned into something quite different...
Vampires, in your thoughts, are horrible creatures who suck human blood...
but your mind is blind to their unbearable sense of alienation, their pain of enduring eternal solitude..."


Ran (Jung Yeon-joo) is a 519-year-old vampire who runs a make-up salon in the Mangwon neighbourhood area of Seoul. Leading an unassuming, somewhat meagre (undead) life – even using vouchers to purchase animal blood products from the local butcher to save her from needing to feed on humans – she pretty much keeps to herself, only venturing out when entirely necessary, wearing copious amounts of sunblock/sunscreen to protect her from the harsh light of day. However, when her new landlord raises her rent by 300%, putting Ran’s entire immortal existence in jeopardy, she realises that she has no option but to interact with as many people as possible to get more customers.
As she makes various (wholly unsuccessful) efforts to do so, a young, would-be actor, Son-yeon (Song Kang), turns up at her store wanting his face made-up for an audition. Ran is instantly shocked to discover that the young man's scent is identical to that of a girl from her long-distant past, centuries ago, and as she tries to discover if he is perhaps a descendant of her long lost friend or indeed a reincarnation she must face the question of whether being drawn to his scent will ultimately lead her to kiss him or bite him...


Beautiful Vampire is split into four chapters focusing on different aspects of Ran's life both in the wake of and indeed prior to her first encountering Son-yeon. These related sections each feature a number of what could be described as brief character vignettes – short, mostly slow motion (almost music video) segments accompanied by a particular musical style while either dialogue-free or narrated by Ran. Whether you consider Ran twirling (as said, in slow motion) under the spray of a beauty product that falls like a rain shower; her strutting down the street to a heavy rock anthem; the Wild West-esque musical accompaniment to a leaflet "shoot out" between our heroine and another vendor; or indeed the weird imagined dance between Ran and her landlord in the wake of an all-out fight between them, these various little interludes bring a palpable quirkiness to proceedings and certainly in the early stages come across as gently amusing and even endearing to a degree, regardless of some being somewhat sillier than others.

Exemplary cinematography adds to the strength of these segments throughout Beautiful Vampire. With so much of the narrative taking place inside Ran's fairly small salon, beautiful hues of blue and gold bring an extra level of dreaminess to the fore, perfectly underlining the fantastical nature of the piece and indeed Ran's entire story. Beautiful Vampire is without question genuinely sweet and the fact that it never takes itself too seriously works well (on one level, at least) in terms of its wacky nature.
However, there is a downside to all of this: Beautiful Vampire’s preoccupation with these quirky ‘imaginings’ ultimately results in the characters being little more than caricatures with any idea of depth being sidestepped, frankly.

Even steps back into Ran's past and her relationship with Jinee never delve anywhere close to deeply enough and we're largely limited to a couple of scenes of just a few seconds in duration repeated as she is reminded of her long lost friend by Son-yeon’s scent. Sure, we eventually do discover how their relationship ended but having seen so little of it in the lead-up (and having being denied any significant details of its actual nature, be it simply a friendship or perhaps something more) this too comes across as little more than a wholly predictable footnote.
Some might counter that assumption by claiming that Beautiful Vampire is (deliberately) light-hearted entertainment where humour is more important than character or story depth but to my mind, while that isn't wholly inaccurate in part, I virtually guarantee that director Jude Jung was ultimately trying to say something more – of societal topicality: At around three-quarters of the way through Beautiful Vampire, Ran speaks the dialogue you can find quoted at the very top of this review, relating to alienation and solitude. It doesn't take much to see that director Jude Jung was speaking of the dissipation of community within present day Korean society at large in the wake of societal and technological modernisation (and that's even before you consider the absolute myriad of Korean films over the years that have discussed that very issue in depth) with Ran's immortality underlining this in her (undead) existence of 500 years which has seen a gradual change from traditional times to modernity.
Certainly Jude Jung’s statement is there, it's just that it pretty much grinds to a halt on being stated and as such only succeeds in grazing the subject in passing rather than hitting it square on – an implied assertion instead of the dissection that could/should have been.

As far as I'm concerned, Beautiful Vampire’s narrative is a work in progress rather than a completed piece fleshed out as it should have been and though, as the story sits, it would have worked quite well as a short film experiment/pre-feature there's just not enough here to hold a full-duration film together, regardless of it too being of a fairly short running time of 73 minutes.

As a final note, major plus points should be given to actress Jung Yeon-joo for her nuanced performance as Ran. Even without story depth and in spite of the aforementioned depiction of characters as two-dimensional caricatures, the gentle, natural warmth she brings to the role makes Ran engaging in her own right. Ultimately, Jung Yeon-joo's performance is one of the film's true strengths, in spite of story failings in other areas. It also demands to be said that Jung Yeon-joo's absolutely photogenic beauty screams out of virtually every frame in which she appears to the extent that viewers can almost be guaranteed to draw breath on more than one occasion. Jung Yeon-joo as such does indeed make for a beautiful vampire, and utterly stunningly so.


Beautiful Vampire initially appears as quirky, warm-hearted and gently funny fantastical entertainment but while the narrative as it stands would likely work well for a short film experiment/pre-feature, there simply isn't enough story here to adequately hold a full-duration film, even at just 73 minutes.


BEAUTIFUL VAMPIRE (뷰티풀뱀파이어 / 2018)
Director: Jude Jung
Starring: Jung Yeon-joo, Song Kang, Park Joon-myun, Lee Yong-nyeo


All images © Siren Pictures
Review © Paul Quinn