"We are not bad children... but everybody thinks that we are. Everyone hates us." (Quotation of dialogue spoken by
Following a car accident, Eun-soo (Chun Jeong-myeong) stumbles into a thick forest and collapses. On regaining consciousness sometime later, he finds a pretty, young girl (Shim Eun-kyung) watching over him, holding an old fashioned lantern. She tells him that her name is Young-hee, and assuring him that she can help him, leads him to her home deep in the forest to recuperate. Her house, which she shares with her older brother Man-bok (Eun Won-jae), her younger sister Jung-soon
(Jin Ji-hee) and her two (unnamed) parents, is like something straight out of a children's fairy tale - a mansion full of cuddly toys, an over-abundance of fluffy slippers, old fashioned bunny pictures and motifs all over the walls and a sign on the gate which reads "House of Happy Children" - but as soon as Eun-soo meets Young-hee's family he realises that there is something very strange about them. The mother and father are overly and falsely friendly, yet become noticeably nervous and evasive when asked about the disconnected phone and the way out of the forest, and though Eun-soo is sure that something is amiss, he gratefully accepts their hospitality and stays the night.
The following morning, Eun-soo thanks the family and sets off to get back to the highway but gets lost on his way through the forest and, finding himself back at the house, has little choice but to stay there for another night.
He tries to leave on subsequent days, but on each occasion ends up standing in front of Young-hee's house again and, when the kids' parents disappear - only leaving a note asking Eun-soo to look after the children "for a few days" - he decides once and for all to find out what is really going on and the reason behind his inability to leave.
As he begins to investigate, he becomes aware that others have been at the house and have also disappeared, leading him to begin to question whether the children are in danger as well, or if they are actually the danger themselves...
Hansel & Gretel is a reworking, or more accurately an extension of, the Grimm's fairy tale which we all remember from our childhoods, with writer Kim Min-sook and director Yim Phil-sung telling a tale based on the idea of Hansel and Gretel in the years following the burning of the evil "witch" and the psychological scars which the witch's actions would have left on them.
The film's opening scenes are a beautiful mix of creepiness and humour, and although there are horrific moments, especially towards the end of the film, Hansel & Gretel is actually more of a dark fantasy than a horror film. Cliches from horror/fantasy genres are, thankfully, mostly avoided, apart from a deliberate red herring, mirroring the attic scene from the beginning of The Grudge, which is specifically used to turn viewers' expectations on their heads.
The production values present here are exquisite. Production designer Ryu Seong-hee (who also worked on Park Chan-wook's masterpiece Oldboy) has created a fairy tale world in incredible detail, which combines with the equally impressive cinematography (by Kim Ji-Yong) to give a truly magical feel to proceedings. The intricate rabbit motifs serve the film in a similar fashion to the rose motifs used in A Tale Of Two Sisters, starting out as warm and comforting but taking on an oppressiveness as the story unfolds and darkens - even to the point of the eyes on the wallpaper designs following the camera round the room.
As the story of what happened to the children is gradually revealed, the film juxtaposes between the bright, colourful fairy tale imagery and a much starker set of colours and sets, allowing perfect switching between the children's current fantasy world and their tortured, painful past.
The film's musical score, composed by Lee Byung-Woo, compliments the production design, cinematography and direction down to a tee and succeeds in being playful yet creepy.
On another level, Hansel & Gretel also serves as a commentary on the state of children's homes and orphanages in South Korea during the 60's and 70's which, unlike the UK, were almost completely unregulated, and, shocking though the related scenes are, more shocking is the knowledge that these types of events could actually have taken place.
cast give utterly believable performances but, as Hansel & Gretel is really the story of the three children, it is their performances which are pivotal to the success of the story - and they do not disappoint.
Firstly, Eun Won-jae, as Man-bok,
has the easiest job of the three but still manages to show a subtle mixture of childhood naivety and distrust of everyone and everything outside his familial bonds.
Jin Ji-hee, as Jung-soon, carries a more difficult
portrayal in the film, especially for someone so young, as she is required to play a smiling, giggly, 7-year old child one moment and an aggressive brat the next. She manages to portray the different aspects of her character effortlessly and with
Finally Shim Eun-kyung, as Young-hee, gives a deeply moving and touching portrayal of a girl who has faced the worst of the torment inflicted on the three children and who has allowed herself to be subjected to some truly horrific treatment in an attempt to protect her family, especially her little sister. Young-hee is clearly desperate to be genuinely loved, and Eun-kyung's portrayal is so good that it is easy to see why she has already been the recipient of acting awards so early in her career - incredibly talented, Shim Eun-kyung will make you cry.
Hansel & Gretel thankfully doesn't need an excess of gratuitous blood, gore and "boo" scares to succeed. Its depiction of innocence abused, childhoods lost and the worst that human nature is capable of - whilst still containing a core of innocence and hope - goes much deeper than most fantasy/horror stories and makes for a truly heart wrenching (and wonderfully heart warming) viewing experience.
As we get older, we become somewhat acclimatised to horror portrayed on screen, having realised that real life is a lot scarier than any celluloid gore fest, but if a film can tap into our memories of, and the reactions we had to, the horror stories and dark fairy tales we grew up with then something much creepier, more unsettling and deeply poignant can be created. Such is the case with Hansel & Gretel.
Director: Yim Phil-sung
Chun Jeong-myeong ... Eun-soo
Shim Eun-kyung ... Young-hee
Jang Yeong-nam ... Soo-jeong
Jin Ji-hee ... Jung-soon
Kim Kyeong-ik ... Young-sik
Park Hee-soon ... Deacon Byun
Eun Won-jae ... Man-bok
edition reviewed here is the UK (Region 2) TerraCotta Distribution release and the quality on show is exemplary. The anamorphic transfer is expansive, clean and clear and really does justice to the beautiful cinematography throughout the film. Both the Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 soundtracks are so clear that you could hear a pin drop in the atmospherically quiet sections and the creepiness of some of the noises in other parts of the film sing out, almost seeming to surround the viewer.
Extras are extensive and contain a wealth of informative insights - especially the interview with Production Designer Ryu Seong-hee who shows a charming modesty and humility.
o Main Language:
o Available Audio Tracks: Dolby Digital
5.1, Dolby 2.0
o Disc Format: DVD 9
o 53 mins Making Of
o Interview with Special Effects Director
o Interview with Production Designer
o Other Release Trailers