Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Piper: Hamelin in Post-War Korea
might just be the dark fantasy pest control film we have all been waiting for.
Woo-ryong is an itinerant musician who gets side-tracked in a suspicious
village with a pronounced rat infestation problem. If you are picking up shades
of Hamelin, hold that thought. Kim Gwang-tae will make good on them with his
feature debut, The Piper (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in Los Angeles.
after the Korean War armistice, Woo-ryong sets out with his son Young-nam on a
cross-country trek to Seoul, where the U.S. Army hospital will treat his ailing
lungs. Unfortunately, they stumble across a formerly hidden hamlet tightly controlled
by their village headman. It is the sort of tightly knit community that could
easily hold an annual stoning lottery. In exchange for food and a night’s
lodging, the civic strongman makes Woo-ryong promise to keep the end of the war
secret. He agrees, even though it gives him bad vibes.
he cannot help noticing the village has rat issues. Evidently, they started
showing up one fateful night. Nobody will talk about it, but it must have been
pretty bad. However, Woo-ryong can do something about the here-and-now. All
manner of beasts respond to his pipe. Unfortunately, when Mi-sook, the newly
revealed village shaman develops feelings for Woo-ryong and Young-nam, the
headman considers them threats to his well-structured order and starts plotting
against them accordingly.
Piper goes to some murky,
sinister places. Let’s just say it is not kidding around about its Hamelin
references. When it comes time for payback, things get downright Biblical. Not
to be spoilery, but viewers who are afraid of rats will be profoundly creeped
out by the third act. In all honesty, The
Piper wears its archetypes so conspicuously on its sleeve, we largely know
where it is going after about twenty minutes. Yet, Kim’s execution is so tight
and taut, he keeps the audience focused-in and perched on their seat’s edge
he frequently plays heavies, Ryoo Seung-ryong’s haggard everyman look and
intense aura of pathos are perfect for Woo-ryong. Young Goo Seung-hyun also
deserves tons of credit for his convincing work as the bespectacled Young-nam,
belying his precious appearance. Portraying a master manipulator beyond his
years, Lee Sung-min’s headman supplies the film’s dark, malicious heart. It is
a great piece of big screen villainy. Chun Woo-hee’s slow burning presence also
grabs eyeballs, but her character, Mi-sook, is not adequately established.
Piper taps into some deep primal
themes, reaching back to Medieval Saxony while evoking the dysfunctional dynamics
of charismatic leaders and their cult-like followers. It is a remarkably
well-put-together production that might just be the “feel bad” film of the
summer. Recommended rather highly for those who enjoy dark, slightly
fantastical thrillers, The Piper opens
this Friday (7/24) in Los Angeles, at the CGV Cinemas.
Labels: Fairy tale cinema, Korean Cinema