In honor of Halloween, I’m spending the days leading up to All Hallow’s Eve pitting off foreign horror movies against their American remakes. Today we look at a surreal Korean flick and its gory remake:
Geoul Sokeuro (Into the Mirror) versus Mirrors
Warning. Spoilers! I’m typically assuming you’ve seen the American version of the movie, so hopefully I’m not spoiling much.
The original story. Young-Min is disgraced cop, who quite his job after he shot and killed his partner during a hostage situation. He now works for his uncle as the head of security at Dreampia, a ritzy department store on the eve of reopening after being destroyed by a fire some years previously. However, as the grand reopening draw near, Dreampia employees begin dying at the hands of their reflections in mirrors, and rumors that the store is haunted begin to circulate. Young-Min investigates the deaths, but runs afoul first of Hyun-Su, a former cop colleague (who still blames the security guard for the death of his friend) and then of his chairman uncle (after Hyun-Su foils at attempt on his life by a distraught girl called Ji-Hyeon). Fired from his job, he continues his investigation, learning that Ji-Hyeon’s twin sister Jeong-Hyeon died in the fire, though she suspects she was murdered by the store’s VP (who was engaged in some dirty business deals for Dreampia) and the fire was a cover-up. Now he ghost is trapped in mirrors, and through the mirrors she has been exacting her revenge: indeed during the Grand Reopening she pops up during a runway fashion show and terrifies everybody in the store, effectively killing its business prospects. Young-Min and Ji-Hyeon find Jeong-Hyeon’s body behind a mirror in the store, but are ambushed by the dastardly veep, who shoots Yeoung-Min but is himself dispatched by the ghost of Jeong-Hyeon. Young-Min apparently survives the shooting, but when he steps outside he sees all traces of writing is reversed… and realizes he died in the shooting, and is himself trapped in the mirror world.
The two movies. On the one hand, 2003’s Geoul Sokeuro is a movie that looks beautiful. In a movie whose premise involves mirrors acting in counter-intuitive ways, its cinematography is top-notch. Of course, it kind of has to be: any scene involving multiple mirrors must be painstakingly orchestrated in order to keep the camera and crew from appearing in any of the reflections. Many of the mirror-induced murders are creepy as hell (such as the memorable glass-elevator sequence, in which one of the infinitely many reflections of our hapless victim simply steps out of place and turns around). But even without these, there are still a number of surreal scenes that blur the line between the real world and the mirror world. For example, one scene involves an extended conversation between Young-Min and his friend in a diner… except that at the end of the scene we realize that we’ve been watching their reflections in the diner mirror. Another scene has Young-Min facing off against the evil Veep as a glass door opens between them, which gives the effect of the VP turning into Young-Min.
On the other hand, pretty visuals aside, Geoul Sokeuro is ultimately forgettable. The problem is that it tries to be too many kinds of movies at once: a ghost story, a cop movie, a corporate thriller, and a murder mystery. As a result, it never quite gets into the groove of any of them. The movie starts off as a superb ghost story, but midway through the supernatural all but disappears, and we instead get a talky cop flick; and then again all cops disappear for a while and we have a corporate murder mystery. I suppose if the movie simply focused on one of these aspects, it might be a very compelling flick, but instead it feels scattered, disconnected, and never really engaged.
Alexandre Aja it apparently felt the same way, so when he remade it in 2008 as Mirrors, he kept only the basic shell of the story — disgraced cop Ben takes job as a security guard at a burned-out department store, while people die at the hands of their reflections in mirrors — more or less built a new movie from there. Instead of the mirrors being the paranormal retribution of a murdered girl, the mirrors instead hold at bay a legion of psychotic demons. The demons seek a girl called Anna Esseker, who they once possessed, out of whom they were subsequently driven, and into whom they desperately need to repossess.
Mirrors focuses solely on telling its ghost story, and as a result it is orders of magnitude scarier than its inspiration. By ignoring the the “grand reopening marketing scheme” plot, Mirrors keeps the department store a burnt-out shell of a building, which is infinitely scarier (especially with its charred and flaked expanse dotted liberally with supernaturally pristine mirrors. Ben’s nightly patrols into the store are routinely frightening: the “burning woman” sequence is terrifying as hell. Similarly, by dropping out the “dueling cops” subplot, Mirrors also has more time to focus on novel ways to make the mirrors even more monstrous, such as the demons’ attempt to foil Ben’s attempt to foil them (by painting over all the reflective surfaces in his home) by springing a leak in the plumbing and flooding the house in a thin veneer of (surprisingly) reflective water.
On the one hand, the mirror effects are far gorier and significantly less surreal in the remake, an obvious victim of American movie cliches (the extraordinarily gothic haunted house and “more blood = more scare” tropes being particularly evident). On the other hand, the remake’s revamped ghost story is far more engaging and much more frightening. Pretty much my only complaint with the remake was the final battle between our hero Ben and the repossessed Anna under the department store, because it reminded me waaaayyy too much of the final scene of Army of Darkness, which in addition to not being the style of horror to which Mirrors was aspiring, also suffered from a detestable lack of references to “bookmsticks” or invitations to she-bitches to “let’s go.” That’s just sad.
The verdict. So the ending was a little over the top. (At least Aja copied a classic.) The remake is slicker and scarier, and gets my vote.