Welcome back to our weekly appointment with In the mood for East, a column entirely dedicated to oriental cinema. Today we’re talking about Won Shin-yeon’s A Bloody Aria
This week on In the mood for East, our in-depth column on oriental cinematography, let’s go back to the cinema of the 2000s. Among the many deserving proposals of the South Korea there is plenty of choice, as we have repeatedly stated during our appointments. And you will really find something for all tastes, even for those who want to have fun with a little blood and violence.
If that’s the case, then A Bloody Aria will do just for you. The film is directed in 2006 by the director and former stuntman Won Shin-yeon, after the interesting but flawed horror The Wig. A little ‘survival horror, a little slasher, a little thriller, a little bit black comedy, the second feature by the South Korean director is unsettling for its lucid madness and for a cast in great shape.
Plot and trailer | A Bloody Aria
Young In-jeong (Cha Ye-ryun) is returning from an audition for a musical with Park Yeong-sun (Lee Byung-joon), his singing teacher and celebrity of the musical environment. The serenity of the journey is interrupted by an argument with a policeman (Han Suk-kyu), following a fine for passing with the red. The matter set aside, the two stop in a secluded area of the countryside, where the man clumsily tries to abuse the girl, causing her to escape.
In-jeong thinks he is safe by the time he meets Bong-yeon (Lee Moon-sik), who offers to give her a lift to the bus station. However, the two reach the professor, who has fallen into the hands of a band of deviant yokels, of which the strange little man is actually the leader. In-jeong and Yeong-sun become the target of the sadistic games of the group, but some unexpected event will mess things up for everyone, reversing the course between victims and executioners.
Like cat and mouse | A Bloody Aria
The starting point of A Bloody Aria is all in all trivial, or at least quite common within the horror genre. A family or group of mentally disturbed people targets the unfortunate on duty, turning their peaceful day into a real nightmare. In fact, how not to immediately think of the famous saga of the various Do not open that door and singing company?
The reference is evident, but Won Shin-yeon decides not to dwell on the classic horror system provided by the narrative cue. On the contrary, he seasons his surprising work with a black humor and a rhythm that is not at all obvious. We must not wait too long for the two protagonists to meet the villains on duty, but the director does not seem to be in a hurry to discover his cards. Won Shin-yeon plays with the viewer like executioners play with their victims, or like a cat would play with a mouse. And it is towards the end that the final paw arrives, with theincrease in pace and an explosion of violence with grotesque connotations. What was previously a subtle game mostly psychological becomes in the last half hour a riot of blood and unmotivated ferocity, between humiliation, abuse and revenge.
In doing so, Won Shin-yeon moves away from the baroqueism of certain compatriot cinema, preferring a ‘natural setting, with its wide open and bright, but not reassuring, spaces. Another strong point of the film is to be found in chameleonic soundtrack, led by El toreador, taken from the second act of Bizet’s Carmen. A soundtrack that underlines the events now gravely, now with irony, now with a melancholy note, proving itself perfect synthesis of the different souls of the film.
What do human beings have in common? | A Bloody Aria
At the end of it all, we know very little about the motivations that push the characters towards violence. We sense something towards the end, but what happens is not enough to complete the picture. Madness? Trauma? The simple fun of it? One, the other, probably all three. What we know for sure is that from the beginning we feel we cannot trust them. Everyone is dirty, rotten, in appearance but also in soul. The fact that there is a group of “bad guys” does not mean, however, that the other characters (with the exception of the girl) escape the inner decay, some for one reason, some for another.
Each character is well built, each with their own quirky little characteristics. Thanks not only to careful writing, but also to a group of actors perfectly in part, none excluded. From the disturbing Lee Moon-sik to the ambiguous Han Suk-kyu, from the sweet Cha Ye-ryun to the slimy Lee Byung-joon, ending with Oh Dal-su and Kim Shi-hoo, both already seen in Lady Vendetta.
The truth is that everyone turns out to be the same: the advanced and wealthy inhabitants of the city and the backward and barbarous inhabitants of the countryside. No one escapes the animalistic and brutal instinct inherent in the human being, all eventually give in to their weaknesses. It is important to note how the net inequality between social classes is often the protagonist of South Korean cinema. Just think, among the most recent examples, of Bong Joon-ho, whose works have always brought this theme to the fore (Snowpiercer and Parasite above all).
With A Bloody Aria, Won Shin-yeon manages to creep subtly into the viewer’s perception. The viewer is destabilized by a violence that might seem gratuitous, but it is actually functional to the story. The human being is plumbed and stripped of all his social conventions, ending up showing himself in his raw brutality. A movie extreme and wild, or to quote the title, a “bloody air” in all respects.
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