Jung Sik and Jung Bum-shik (The Jung Brothers)
This gorgeous and intelligent horror creepily weaves a trio of tales around notions of love, loss and death at a 1940s hospital
The beauty of the horror genre can get lost in the pursuit of scares and gory. What the Jung Brother achieve with Epitaph is a film that is visually brilliant, yet disturbing and full of threat also.
It is both cerebral and visceral in nature, as the film has a depth of theme and commentary, while also allowing an emotional element which invests us further.
The narrative structure is a fragmented one, relying on flashback, but in a suitable and coherent enough fashion that the film does not get lost in its own storytelling.
There are three segments to the tale. Firstly, a doctor, Jung-nam (Jin Goo), reminisces over his time as an intern at Ansaeng Hospital in 1942. On morgue duty, he finds himself attracted to a young woman who has been bought in after a double suicide, eventually falling in love with the corpse.
The second segment concerns Asako (Ko Joo-yeon), a young girl who is the only survivor of a car crash which killed her mother and her new partner. Asako is then haunted by the ghost of her mother while a doctor works furiously to cure of her what he believes is a severe case of survivor's guilt.
A final segment centres on the hospital's surgeons Dr. Kaneda (Kim Bo-gyeong) and Dr. Kim Dong-won (Kim Tae-woo) who become entwined with the serial murders of Japanese soldiers.
Epitaph is a film with much going for it, blending superb cinematography and set design, with an ensemble cast of fine performances. The film builds a fascination towards its characters and stories, one that allows an audience investment in the film’s twists and turns. The memorable and eye-catching scenes also allow us to better follow the time-jumping narrative developments.
It is worth spending additional time pondering the visuals of the film. This is a feature which churns through the memorable shots, combining colours of white and red that bore into our vision throughout.
Such visuals play perfectly into the period setting of the film, which feels both genuine and engaging. This was not a novelty play for the 1940s, you are transported there in real terms.
Then there are the snails – a regular presences throughout, slowly sliming their way toward danger and warning us of sinister developments ahead of time. They also aid the brilliant poster which accompanies the film, sliding up a neck with a blood trail behind.
The early 2000s produces a flood of K-Horror additions, many of which seemed to be parroting each other and other elements of Asian cinema at the time. What Epitaph does is break free from those genre expectations to deliver something altogether more profound.
The film reignited international interest in K-Horror and those that found their way to Epitaph are rewarded with an opulent and sharp voyage into a horror with true depth.