A noirish psychological suspenser wrapped around a murder mystery, "Spider Forest" spins a considerably more involving web than director Song Il-gon's debut, the bleak femme road movie "Flower Island" (2001). More tightly constructed, and with its affectations working for rather than against the movie this time round, film stumbles only in the final furlong with a corny, telegraphed, resolution.

A noirish psychological suspenser wrapped around a murder mystery, “Spider Forest” spins a considerably more involving web than director Song Il-gon’s debut, the bleak femme road movie “Flower Island” (2001). More tightly constructed, and with its affectations working for rather than against the movie this time round, film stumbles only in the final furlong with a corny, telegraphed, resolution. Some festival exposure looks in the cards, given Song’s rep on the circuit, with high-end Euro bookings also possible.

A guy wakes up in a house in a forest and finds a man horribly murdered. Nearby, a woman the guy knows, Hwang Su-yeong (Kang Gyeong-heon), is lying dying; she says, “I’m sorry.” The guy gives chase to an intruder, who may or may not be the murderer, is temporarily knocked unconscious and, after wandering through a tunnel to the outside world, is knocked down by a car just as he seems to spot the intruder again. Later, after brain surgery, he keeps repeating the words “Spider Forest.”

Arresting set-up continues to hold the attention as the mists clear on who’s who and the story continues in both past and present. Main protag, Kang Min (Kam Woo-seong), is a TV producer who lost his choreographer wife, Eun-ah (Seo Jeong, from “The Isle”), in a plane crash. Flashbacks limn their life together and Kang’s subsequent meeting with TV station employee Hwang, with whom he started a hot relationship.

The night before she died in Spider Forest, Hwang had promised to give him an answer on whether she’d marry him. The following day, however, Kang had been led to the location by a series of baits, including a roll of film from a photo shop near Spider Forest; when he arrived at the house, he found Hwang in flagrante with another man.

Investigating cop Choi (Jang Hyeon-seong), a friend of Kang’s, finds the two bodies in the house as Kang described. But other aspects of the case don’t add up. For a start, there’s the mystery female owner of the photo shop, Min Su-in (also Seo), who tells Kang about the legend of Spider Forest, where a terrible crime once took place.

Like “Flower Island,” the film’s title represents a state of mind of the main protagonists, in this case a tangled web of memory.

Unlike Song’s previous pic, which was all mood with no center, “Spider Forest” is a psychological mystery that’s so densely plotted the viewer is led to expect a more surprising denouement than actually occurs.

However, on a technical level, the atmospheric lensing and design — especially the dark, old-style photo shop, with its lugubrious drapes — and Yun Min-hwa’s broad, melancholic score help to maintain interest even when it’s clear the script is simply playing a three-card trick. Performances are fine, especially Seo’s.

Spider Forest

South Korea

Production

A Chungeorahm Film release of an Oak Films production, in association with Egg Film, Spider Forest Film. (International sales: CJ Entertainment, Seoul.) Produced by Kim Dae-hyeon. Executive producer, Ahn Min-jun. Co-producer, Francesca Feder. Directed, written by Song Il-gon.

Crew

Camera (color), Kim Cheol-ju; editor, Choi Jae-geun; music, Yun Min-hwa; art director, Jeon Hye-jeong; costume designer, Kim Eun-suk; sound (Dolby Digital), Kim Yong-hun, Jeong Jin-wook; special effects, Kim Tae-yong; special makeup, Kim Heui-suk; assistant director, Kim Dong-wook. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 13, 2004. (Also in Puchon Fantastic Film Festival -- industry screenings.) Running time: 118 MIN.

With

Kam Woo-seong, Seo Jeong, Kang Gyeong-heon, Jang Hyeon-seong, Son Byeong-ho.
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