November 14, 2012

The Ring Virus: Here's the Version You Haven't Heard About

If a movie's cultural relevance could be calculated by the number of sequels and copycats it spawned, then surely Japanese fanboy fright flick Ringu would count as globally significant since it's inspired not just two sequels and a prequel in its native country but also a popular American remake (which in turn has its own Part 2) and a Korean spin-off. Given that worldwide impact, you'd be asking a lot of the transnational versions if you expected any of them to achieve the same level of notoriety. Never heard of The Ring Virus, the Korean variation? Well, that's not because it's bad. It's because it came out a mere year after the original and shifted the stylistic frame from horror to supernatural detective story. Think serviceable more than sensational.

So while you've still got the videotape that kills you a week after you watch it and a pissed off female spirit (Bae Doona) who hides behind long black hair even when she's crawling out of a television to shock you to death, the central quest of one potential victim hoping to break the video's fatal curse before it snuffs her entails less screaming and more forehead wrinkling this time. This is a mystery after all. So when her niece dies from a premature heart attack and Sun-ju (Shin Eun-kyung) senses something's amiss, she's sniffing out a story, not a dead body per se. A closet newshound, she applies her admittedly undeveloped investigative skills -- to date, she's been working on art exhibits, not breaking news -- to unearth the cause of her relative's death. Out of her league, she enlists the help of offbeat forensic doctor Choi Yeol (Jeong Jin-yeong) and together they search, worry, ponder, get goosebumps, take a boat, and obsess over details neither can decode nor piece together. (The only puzzle that actually comes together in The Ring Virus is the jigsaw on Choi's floor.) Although he's ostensibly the sidekick, Choi is the more interesting character -- a cold-blooded man of science who sees this chase after death as a temporary respite from existential ennui. Writer-director Kim Dong-bin believes, dying is better than boredom. That's a sentiment with which I agree.

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