Sunday, February 11, 2024

Mangryeong-ui Wedingdeureseu (1981)

... aka: 망령의 웨딩드레스
... aka: 亡霊의 웨딩드레스
... aka: Ghost's Wedding Dress, The
... aka: Haunted Wedding Dress, The
... aka: Mangryongui Wechingturesu
... aka: Wedding Dress of the Ghost

Directed by:
Yun-kyo Park

Filmmakers who frequently dabbled in the genre have been around since the advent of film itself but it wouldn't be until the late 70s to early 80s that directors would turn into bankable commodities themselves specifically because they specialized in making good horror films. Sure, one could say that James Whale is famous for his Universal horror classics, but he wasn't bouncing from one horror film to the next his entire career either. After Bride of Frankenstein he was off to the musical Show Boat and never again returned to the genre. Audiences at that time weren't clamoring for the next James Whale horror movie. They may have been anticipating the next Whale film, but it wasn't genre specific. What they were really looking forward to was the next Boris Karloff horror movie regardless of who made it. That's not a slight on Whale, it's just a testament to the marquee star power of the day. Back then, it was primarily the actors who were selling the tickets, as all of the posters and advertising materials for these older films can attest.

The impetus for all of that to start changing perhaps began in the late 1950s with Forry Ackerman and James Warren's invaluable Famous Monsters of Filmland, a magazine dedicated solely to science fiction, horror and fantasy films. The publication was popular from the onset, led to many similar rivals magazines, helped solidify fandom as an enriching and genuinely fun thing and influenced an entire generation of later Hollywood filmmakers. What's especially interesting is that the magazine also acted as an outlet for those who perhaps felt a little alienated from society. Nerds, misfits or whoever may have been a little different than their peers could find a sense of community in the pages of Famous Monsters, whether reading letters from fellow fans, learning about the people making their favorite films or checking out photos of kindred spirits in the form of misunderstood fictional monsters. This also explains why the magazine was especially popular with kids and teenagers.

Flash forward a few decades to the explosion of the home video market, which lead to an even greater explosion of horror films (always one of the top rental categories), which lead to an explosion of horror magazines and books needed to cover all of those films. Fans genuinely wanted to know more about the films they loved, who was making them and what to expect next. People behind the scenes who'd made their mark in the previous decades, as well as emerging new filmmakers, were suddenly being put on a pedestal and becoming just as big of stars as the actors themselves. And filmmakers were suddenly receiving very prominent billing in ads, with "From the makers of..." and "From the director of..." becoming perhaps the biggest selling point of all.

However, this luxury wasn't afforded every director out there and was almost exclusively enjoyed by those working in markets that courted international distribution as part of their business model (namely in North America and Europe, especially Italy). While names like Craven and Carpenter and Fulci became internationally known horror royalty, there were just as many others with just as many credits who no one outside of their home countries even knew existed.

The above is especially true for Asian filmmakers, whose efforts usually didn't make it outside of Asia and, in the off chance they did, they almost always got butchered beyond recognition in the process. The closest I think anyone ever got to receiving accolades here in America during this time was "Father of Godzilla" Ishirô Honda. Otherwise, it really didn't matter how well versed in horror you thought you were, you still almost certainly didn't know anything about Hong Kong's Chih-Hung Kuei, Taiwan's Feng-Pan Yao, Indonesia's Sisworo Gautama Putra, India's Ramsay Brothers or South Korea's Yun-kyo Park, the director of the film we're about to watch.

Even though Park was considered "The Master of Horror Films" in his homeland, he was, and remains, completely unknown outside of South Korea. That's in spite of the fact he averaged about a horror film a year over an 18 year period lasting from 1967 to 1985. You wouldn't even know that if you used IMDb as a reference, which lists just 10 of his 40+ directorial credits spread over two different pages (one spelled "Yoon Kyo Park"). And there likely would have been a lot more than just that had he not passed away in 1987 while just in his early 50s. While it's difficult to obtain biographical information on this guy, we can deduct one thing: He had to have loved horror / ghost films himself. There were pretty long stretches of time in his home country where genre films weren't popular at all and didn't have much of an audience, yet he made them anyway. Had he solely been in the business for money or fame, he'd have zero reason for sticking by the genre like he did.

Even so, while his dedication may nudge us into his corner, it takes more than just that to develop a devoted international following. You have to have quality work, or at least a couple of really good key films, to back yourself up. Even though I'm now just two movies into his filmography and am hoping I'm proven wrong here, I've yet to see evidence that Park had what it took to break out of his obscurity even if his movies had been made more readily available. What we get here is the tired old "wronged murdered woman returns as ghost for revenge against a scumbag" plot, a long-time staple of Asian ghost cinema, trotted out again and not done in an especially memorable, stylish or interesting way. This is extremely high on overwrought emotional melodrama and extremely low on most of the things horror fans are really going to want to see.

While heading home on a dark and stormy night, wealthy industrialist Yeong-ha Kim (Se-hyeok Jeong) runs over a screaming woman who darts out into the street. When he steps out of his car to investigate, the "woman" has suddenly turned into a mannequin. Upon returning home, he hears water running, flings open the bathroom door, gets a quick flash of a blue-faced ghost girl and then discovers he's barged in on his maid taking a shower. Oops. Then he finds out his young son, Cheol-su (Yong-won Choe), had an accident while he was away and ended up breaking his leg. Rushing to the hospital, he learns from his wife (Flora Seo Jeong-Ah) that a woman dressed in black had broken into their home earlier and coerced the son onto the stairs, where he fell.

The black-clad mystery woman in question turns out to be a beautiful 19-year-old aspiring singer named Jeong-im (Eun-sook Sunwoo). Well, she was an aspiring singer before her untimely demise, which we learn all about in a lengthy flashback...

The singer first met Yeong-ha when she was hitchhiking to Seoul. Arriving in the city with stars in her eyes and cheery optimism, Jeong-im later turned up in Yeong-ha's office broke, destitute and begging him to help her find a job and a place to stay. Yeong-ha put the girl up in a company villa located out in the country, whose only other occupant was elderly caretaker Old Man Kwak (Hyang Lee), who started to develop a fatherly bond with the orphaned teen. Dropping in for a visit one day, Yeong-ha became lust-crazed after spying on the girl in the shower, forced himself on her and then the two began a consensual romantic relationship. An unexpected pregnancy soon followed, which led Yeong-ha to not only insist they stop seeing each other, but also that she get an abortion. After all, his reputation, family life and social standing would all take a massive hit if any of this were to get out. Adding salt in the wound, Jeong-im was then accidentally knocked down the stairs during an argument and broke her leg.

Pregnant, alone, heartbroken, desperate, now crippled and facing a impossible battle, Jeong-im deteriorated into a pathetic, groveling and emotionally unstable mess. After receiving a late night phone call demanding his presence, Yeong-ha arrived at the villa to find his lover crazy-eyed, decked out in a black wedding gown, holding a black rose and hobbling around on her crutch talking about their upcoming wedding and showing him the wedding cake she made them. She then offered up her own list of demands: He's to divorce his wife, kick her out of the home, move her in to take her place and then let her raise their son. Also, no abortion. She's going to have the child whether he likes it or not. If he doesn't acquiesce to what she wants, she'll expose him. Another heated argument ensued, ending with an enraged Yeong-ha punching her in the face, kicking her in the head and killing her. He then wrapped her body up and sunk it in a well, though later had to relocate it to an unmarked shallow grave in the mountains due to water contamination.

Back in the present day, the vengeful ghost amusingly orders a coffin to be delivered to home of her killer with a special note that it's for the wife. She makes Yeong-ha have visions of a couple hanging by nooses at work and may also be responsible for one of his employees falling to their death. She puts the son in a sleepwalking trance, lures him outside and tries to kidnap him. She shows up at the home, makes lights flicker, breaks a doll and then finally presents herself to the wife. She bemoans her untimely death yet is vague about the details and is basically like, "Hey, why don't you ask your husband about it." Rumors are spreading around that Jeong-im died while pregnant, which also sparks suspicion. However, Yeong-ha simply lies about all of it and says she probably killed herself because some other guy knocked her up.

The ghost then starts getting meaner. She lures Yeong-ha out to a cemetery, attacks him and gives him such a bad nervous breakdown he has to be hospitalized. He then starts drinking too much and becomes partially despondent and sometimes violent, driven by visions of the ghost in place of other people. During a ritual to try to appease the spirit with chanting, dancing and a severed pig's head, Yeong-ha has a red-and-blue lit hallucination where the ghost shows us in a clownwitch-looking costume and entombs him alive. And there's some other stuff that happens, none of it too horribly exciting. What this really is is a family melodrama, and it's not a very good one at that.

My initial fear was that this was going to go down the exact same morally dubious path that the director's previous effort, WAIL OF THE GHOST (1980), did. In Wail, we're rightly positioned from the beginning to sympathize with a poor, orphaned peasant girl who's murdered after delivering a son / heir to an awful rich family before the film tries to switch gears at the very end and expect us to side with the her killers and co-conspirators instead! Having already seen that, a sinking feeling then fell over me the minute the director suddenly started portraying the husband as some poor pitiable shell of his former macho, stone-faced self and he was huddling together with his weepy wife and child. Thankfully, this eventually steers itself away from the same trap Wail fell into, but the lengths it goes to get there creates a brand new problem entirely!

And, Jeezus, is there still a lot of problematic content here. So how would you react if your spouse had an affair, murdered their pregnant lover, hid the body, lied about it the entire time and ended up putting both you and your child's life at risk as a result? Would you be like Stepford Tradwife over here and be like "Oh, I still love you, honey! Must. Keep. Family. Together." No, of course not, unless you happened to be severely mentally ill, possess deeply masochistic tendencies, are really, really dumb or are just a terrible person more concerned with maintaining your upper class lifestyle than your own child's safety. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation in the future, here's a line you can borrow: "Hey ghost girl, leave me and my child alone and hurry up and kill this useless motherfucker I'm currently married to before I do it myself."

While this film is almost entirely bloodless and doesn't have any notable special effects to speak of (best we get is colored lights), it does "boast" one of the most ludicrous twist endings I've ever seen in one of these things. Part of me wanted to go back and find all of the different ways it was impossible, but that would require me spoiling it. Let's just say, it's at least good for a laugh. On a more positive note, I can at least say some actual justice was meted out at the end (unlike with Wail), and that a couple of the lead performances, most notably from the two female leads, are strong and probably better than the film deserves.

I found two different Korean VHS releases for this title (the earliest was from 1983) as well as two entirely different prints on Youtube. The ragged though brighter and sharper print, used for the first video release is missing a lot of screen image plus ten minutes of footage, including the entire opening sequence with the mannequin and lots of other stuff. The other, longer print (not sure where this came from exactly) is widescreen and has less damage but it's also much darker and murkier. I hopped between the two to keep tabs on what I was missing, but I much preferred the look of the shorter, poorly cropped VHS print. Here are some comparisons...

Despite Park being 0 for 2 with me thus far, I'm still going to continue to comb through his filmography at some point looking for something better. There HAS to be something better, right? His other genre credits include The Girl with White Hair (1967), Witch Castle (1968), Magical Sword of the Skeletal Spirit (1969), Demon's Bedroom (1970), Ok-Nyeo's Resentment (1972), Resentment of Daughter-in-Law (1972), Resented Spirit of the Baby Bride Groom (1973), The Story of Lady Arang (1974), A Young Lady's Resentment (1974), Grudge (1976), Legend of the Mountain (1979), The Wail in Spring (1981), Daughter of the Demon World (1983), Thousand Year Old Wolf (1983)  and Song Under the Moonlight (1985). Anyone out there seen any of these?

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