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Unborn But Forgotten
cast: Eun-ju Lee, and Jun-ho Jeong

ddirector: Chang-jae Lim

91 minutes (18) 2002
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan Asia Extreme DVD Region 2 retail
[released 13 November]

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Richard Bowden
Su-jin (Eun-ju Lee) is a reporter making a documentary about a series of women, all of whom have died shortly after visiting a clinic's mysterious website. Joining forces with cyber cop Ei-suk (Jun-ho Jeong), she discovers that she will have to investigate the original victim's story in more detail to discover the truth, and eventually moves into the flat of the dead woman. Meanwhile, unexpectedly pregnant herself after consorting with an anchorman colleague, she unwisely visits the website and learns that those who do so typically die within 15 days...

Asian horror cinema has had several major successes over the recent few years. Unfortunately, Unborn But Forgotten (aka: Hyanbang) isn't one of them. In fact, if there's any real dread found in the film then it's the viewer's growing realisation of its spooky similarity to such others of the sort, such as The Ring (aka: Ringu) or FearDotCom. In his first assignment, director Chang-jae Lim's plodding and unsubtle manner brings little originality to a tired concept of eerie screens, 'spiritual countdowns' to death and vengeful ghosts that has little going for it except production values. Add to this a musical score which is both intrusive and unsubtle when sustaining any degree of atmosphere, and the result is a movie which is a distinct let down across the board, only salvaged by a small degree by its production values.

Su-Jin and Ei-Suk (who for some reason wears the same thick ring-necked jumper in each scene) are suitably glum as unsurprising events overtake them, or as the menaced heroine faces a predictable gamut of grim premonitions, gloomy interiors and shocking confrontations - of which the final one is telegraphed. As is usual in this genre, it is the female who is the witless victim of events, and the film duly opens with two women in separate scenes, one helpless in her bath, the other writhing on her bed, each facing a malevolent, explicitly male threat. Such moments emphasis a morally conservative and prescriptive universe familiar from Hollywood down the years, one typical of lazy horror, where the promiscuous or independent female is inevitably punished in titillating fashion.

Neither are the relationships between the surviving principals very convincing, compounded by a couple of uncharismatic leads. When the Su-Jin's pregnancy is discovered for instance, it brings shame upon all those involved in a way that's ridiculously dated. The father's career as a top TV executive is apparently at risk because of the affair: "if I lose that anchor job it is just like dying!" he wails. Because of this threat, a good deal of hand wringing is involved, in scenes meant presumably to flesh out the relationship between the main characters, and to tie into the central theme of unwelcome birth - but it all turns out something of a distraction. Ultimately, the dated morality scheme just confirms the creative poverty of it all.

Having said that, one can find a slightly more interesting side to the film. By structuring so much of the narrative around specific gynaecological and associated anxieties, it shows an intriguing concern with female hysteria. Many of the deaths are caused by internal injuries sustained by literal, phantom, pregnancies manifesting themselves only for a fatal few minutes. Such spurious symptoms as well as the post natal demise of the 'mother' which usually follows, are the characteristic deaths which lay at the heart of the plot - feminine trauma explicitly symbolised by the online doom of the Maris Women's Clinic. In contrast, the portrait in the dead woman's apartment (an adapted version of Klimt's painting called 'Hope' incidentally) suggests the positive promise of birth - one reason why it is ultimately, and frenziedly, defaced by the murderer.

It's also interesting the way the film steps outside of this perceived scheme of things to tack on a final 'surprise' ending almost completely at odds with what has gone before. As a twist these final few moments are singularly unconvincing, not only on a dramatic, logical level, but by the fact that it seems clunkingly unnecessary in point of view of theme. But it's all of piece with a script that has more holes than sense. The fact that it is there at all suggests a further lack of nerve and imagination by the makers.

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