Sunday, April 1, 2012

Movie Review: THE RING VIRUS (1999)

Wow...haven't done one of these for a while, but I watched something tonight that I really wanted to mull over a bit, figure out what exactly was it that I didn't like...that and I want to get back to writing reviews. I should write one for Mahakaal: The Monster, which I saw last night.

Anyway, when I first saw Ringu (1998), the amazing film directed by Hideo Nakata based on the amazing novel by Koji Suzuki, it was probably 1999 or 2000. It was a bootleg VHS we’d rented from an art house video store so the quality wasn’t the best and we were watching it in broad daylight.

And it scared the crap out of us.

Before you spit your drink of choice all over your computer, just know that I don’t scare easily. I make horror films, for cryin’ out loud. I’ve been watching them since I was six. But there was something so compelling about this film and how Nakata-san handled the material (which, let’s face it, could have easily veered off into Velveet-landia) that I was completely enthralled and I honestly did not sleep that night. It probably didn’t help that I had a television at the foot of my bed.

The Ring Virus (1999) is almost exactly like the Japanese film. It’s about a young female journalist named Sun-Joo who starts investigating the mysterious deaths of her niece and three of her friends seven days after watching a videotape while at a resort. She finds the tape and discovers that it places a curse on whoever watches it that they will die in seven days if they don’t -- and then you don’t know what will break the curse because some damn fool’s recorded something over the most crucial bits of information.

As the film progresses, she gets a young man -- in the Korean version he’s a stranger whom she contacts only after she’s seen the video, but in the original film it’s her ex-husband -- and her daughter -- another deviation from the original film -- involved as they both see the video and are cursed.

Eventually, they track Eun-Suh (the Korean Sadako / Samara) back to where it all began: the well underneath the room at the resort where she planted the images on the videotape using telekinesis. They find her remains and give her body a proper burial. If this had originally been made anywhere else, that’s probably where the story would end, but in a brilliant twist, that’s not at all what Eun-Suh / Sadako / Samara wanted. She wants the WORLD to feel her pain and her anguish. Our pretty young journalist is spared because she made a copy of the video for her compatriot and because he didn’t propagate Eun-Suh’s virus, if you will, Eun-Suh came out of the television and killed him with fear.

The journalist figures it out and takes her VCR with her when she goes to pick up her daughter from her parents’ house where she will make her daughter copy the tape and pass it her grandparents.

It’s interesting to see the subtle (and not so subtle) changes between all three films and how much they differ from Suzuki-san’s novels, particularly in the realm of gender. Sadako (novel) / Eun-Suh is what is now referred to as an “intersexed” person; or a hermaphrodite, possessing the genitalia of both a man and a woman. The Korean version is a little more interested in sex than the Japanese one. Neither the Japanese nor the American versions of the film touched upon her condition or the incest / rape.

In the novel, Asakawa (the main protagonist) is male. In each of the three films, they made the character a woman. I read somewhere that the Japanese producers felt that a woman would appeal more to the box office and to have a love story so, voila! sex change! In the Asian versions of the film (moreso in the Korean one than the Japanese one), she’s whiny and marginally useless, constantly told by the male protagonist to calm down and to use her head.

The male protagonist in the Korean version takes the whole thing almost too lightly, delighting in the “game” of it all. I desperately missed the slow burning intensity of the wonderful Hiroyuki Sanada who played Asakawa’s ex-husband in the original Japanese film.

Technically, this flick was just as fabulous as the original. The cinematography was great (I have to note here that I watched the Tai Seng special edition and it looked like it had been mastered from a VHS or VCD. It added a special touch to the film, made it look like I was watching a bootlegged version, but I don’t think that was the intention) and a special mention must be made of the score and sound effects. Both were excellent!

The only problem I had with this version is that it lacked the intensity, the punch, of the original Japanese film. The score, the sound effects, the cinematography, the acting and direction, they were all great, but they weren’t utilized to their full potential and at the end, I felt kind of deflated and disappointed.

There was no tension, no fear, nothing in the male protagonist’s final moments. It’s like they took their time with the whole film trying to craft something more than just a heartless ripoff, and when they got to what should’ve been the big payoff (Eun-Suh climbing out of the well and through the television) they said, “Let’s just get this over with, this is stupid...” Even the American remake had more oomph to it. It was good and worth seeing if you’re a completionist like me, but if you haven’t seen Ringu or The Ring, I wouldn’t make this your first sojourn into the world of Sadako. See Ringu, then The Ring. Read at least the first book.

The Ring Virus trailer:

This summer, as is the traditional time of releasing horror films in Japan, SADAKO 3D (written by Koji Suzuki!!1!!) comes out. We'll probably never get it over here, but I wants it, precious. Oh, how I wants it.

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