THE PIPER (2015)
A dark fairytale reimagining where deceit fuels revenge when a father and son happen upon a remote village after the Korean War
After a spate of fairytale horrors a decade prior in The Red Shoes (2005), Cinderella (2006), Hansel and Gretel (2007), first-time director Kim Gwang-tae returned to such origins for this atmospherically dark, yet still visually stunning version of the Brothers Grimm story.
Much like the original Hansel and Gretel tale, there is enough dark elements in the Pied Piper of Hamelin story to make a seamless transition to the horror genre. In the original, after a piper is hired to lure rats away from a town, the inhabitants renege on their deal so he does likewise by luring away their children.
An identical format is assumed here, except much darker while assuming localised themes around the country after the Korean War and rural environments of the time.
In the 1950s after the Korean War, Woo-ryong (Ryu Seung-ryong) limps along with his tuberculosis-stricken son Young-nam (Goo Seung-hyun) towards Seoul to gain treatment.
Along the way they find a remote village still under the impression that the war continues. The village chief (Lee Sung-min) tells the pair of travellers they can stay, providing they do not tell the villagers of the truth about the war.
The village itself is plagued by rats who neither fear humans or fall for traps and poison. Woo-ryong offers to rid the village of the rats in return for funds that will cover Young-nam's treatment.
Woo-ryong also falls for the village trainee shaman, Mi-sook (Chun Woo-hee), but despite his best rat-removing efforts, it seems this rural outpost is more distrustful and malicious that first appeared.
Such is the popularity of the source material, viewers will be only too aware of the film’s narrative thrust. Considering it is a Korean cinema reimagining, they will also be unshocked by furious, bloody-thirsty revenge that further unfurls.
Despite this, The Piper does enough heavy lifting in other areas to produce something of original value from a story that dates back to the 13th century.
The glue that holds the seams of that familiar story together is chiefly the cinematography and various performances. Visually stunning, the film’s darker horror tones are also presented with considerable flare.
In particular, the initial rat expelling scene, shot from the air, shows the vast mass of rodents heading for a cave in a delightfully entertaining set-up.
As for the performances, the entire ensemble brings something, especially in a slower burn opening segment, before a wide range of characters display their ambidextrousness and rancorousness.
It is a film deeply reminiscent of Bedevilled (2010) in terms of tone and pacing – one that slowly builds towards more forthright, bloody and bleak revenge by its conclusion.
One for lovers of cinema of the darker variety, it is a quintessentially Korean outing packing in smart visuals, strong performances and fairytale-inspired revenge. Not one for anyone with serious musophobia as the rats come gnawing though.