"Losers are not those who fail in life, but those without any will to live."
Television producer Kang Min (Kam Woo-seong) awakes in a forest having been badly beaten. As he tries to find his bearings, he stumbles upon a cabin, in which he discovers the bodies of his lover, Su-yeong (Kang Kyeong-heon), and his boss, manager Choi, both of whom have been brutally murdered. Before he can fully take in the gruesome scene, he realises that the perpetrator is still nearby, but while subsequently chasing him, Min is mown down by a hit and run driver. Fourteen days later, he wakes from a coma to find himself in hospital, and though there are severe lapses in his memory, he knows that he must return to the forest to ascertain what really happened there...
Those who prefer straightforward films, with linear storytelling and timelines, may well be better off looking elsewhere for their Korean film fix, however, if plotlines that force viewers to repeatedly question what they are seeing (and ultimately draw their own conclusions) appeal to you, then Spider Forest will almost certainly fulfill your needs.
From the earliest stages of the film, things are rarely what they initially appear to be, and there are repeated instances throughout where reality and (dark) fantasy; dreams and nightmares; and past memories and present observations, intertwine and overlap, with one often blurring into another.
As Min gets further into his investigation of what happened to him, his lover and his boss, every piece of the puzzle that he solves raises yet more questions and grey areas in his mind and, as the vast majority of Spider Forest is shown from his perspective, that goes as much for viewers' perceptions as it does for Min himself.
That said, the film never seems confused or muddled - instead feeling, for the large part, like a rather gripping thriller mixed with equal parts horror story and ghostly tale, unleashing its secrets bit by bit, by bit - and as the story twists and turns, its true nature becomes increasingly apparent:
At its core, Spider Forest is a dissection of love and loss; of betrayal and retribution, and of the guilt and regret which, all too often, lead directly to denial and self-destruction. It is also clearly shown to be all too true that the thought processes involved in attempting to deal with, and rationalise, traumatic events can ultimately become a vicious circle, serving only to repeatedly lead us right back to where we started.
Within Min's unfolding story there are also repeated references to both spiders (obviously), as forgotten souls (which almost seem to follow him throughout his journey), and also to Original Sin (Adam, Eve, the snake and the apple).
With apples forming a part of numerous scenes, they appear outwardly as a simple allusion to forbidden knowledge or loss of innocence, however, they could also be said to symbolise sin leading to death (physical or spiritual).
In case you didn't follow me round that curve, let me give you just a couple of examples:
The church historically noted the similarity of the Latin words for “apple” (malus, malum) and for “bad, evil, sin” (malum);
In baroque art, death is often depicted as a skeleton holding an apple, symbolising that the price of original sin is death itself;
And mention is made in the bible of God telling Adam and Eve that if they eat the apple they will "surely die".
This allegory of sin and death is especially likely in Spider Forest considering the specific depictions contained within the scenes in which those apples appear.
When all is said and done, Spider Forest serves not only as a gripping, well executed horror/thriller, but also as the basis for subsequent thought and lengthy discussion of the subject matter and underlying themes.
Cinematically, Spider Forest is well paced and executed with many scenes taking on a suitably dream/nightmare-like quality. The direction and camera work are exemplary, especially in the forest scenes, and combine with a beautiful (and often creepy) score to create further memorable points to an already thought-provoking work.
The entire cast of Spider Forest give accomplished performances throughout, but special mention should be made of Jeong Suh’s portrayal of both Eun-ha and Su-jin. Though she plays Eun-ha for a much shorter period of the film, she still manages to make her portrayal noticeably different to her role as Su-jin. In fact, viewers who are unfamiliar with Jeong Suh could initially be forgiven for thinking that the characters are played by two different actresses, not least considering their vastly different look, hairstyles and demeanour.
A combination of thriller, horror story and ghostly tale, Spider Forest details one man's attempts to uncover his forgotten memories, and serves as a thought provoking study of loss, betrayal, regret and self-destruction.
Cast (Actor... Character):
Kam Woo-seong…. Kang Min
Jeong Suh …. Min Su-jin/Eun-ha
Kang Kyeong-heon…. Hwang Su-yeong
The DVD reviewed here is the UK (Region 0) Tartan Entertainment single disc release, with the film presented as an anamorphic transfer with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Colours are well balanced throughout with blacks being particularly well rendered. There is slight image ghosting visible on a couple of the faster moving scenes but it isn’t at a level which would affect enjoyment of the film.
The original Korean language soundtrack is provided as a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 with each being clear and well balanced.
The main feature subtitles provided are generally of good quality throughout.
Sadly, the only supplementary content on the UK release is the film’s theatrical trailer (provided with English subtitles) - a shame, especially considering the fact that the Region 1 Tartan release also has a Making Of featurette, cast/crew interviews and deleted scenes included.
• Director: Song Il-gon
• Format: PAL,
Anamorphic, Widescreen, Subtitled
• Language: Korean
Subtitles: English, None
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0
• Region: Region 0
• Aspect Ratio:
• Number of discs: 1
• Classification: 18
• Run Time: 120 minutes (approx.)
DVD Special Features: