Review: ‘Princess Aurora’

Korean actress Bang Eun-jin makes an assured helming debut with "Princess Aurora," a femme serial-killer lark which plays like "Sympathy for Miss Vengeance" remade by Brian De Palma. Strongly cast pic, led by singer-thesp Eom Jeong-hwa in her first serious leading role, is a treat to look at in clinically composed widescreen and has a delicious sense of non-redemption that will appeal to genre fans and fantasy fest patrons.

Korean actress Bang Eun-jin makes an assured helming debut with “Princess Aurora,” a femme serial-killer lark which plays like “Sympathy for Miss Vengeance” remade by Brian De Palma. Strongly cast pic, led by singer-thesp Eom Jeong-hwa in her first serious leading role, is a treat to look at in clinically composed widescreen and has a delicious sense of non-redemption that will appeal to genre fans and fantasy fest patrons. However, a weakly developed third act will prevents film from realizing its full potential.

Bang, 40, is a legit and movie actress who’s best known in the West for her role as the obsessive foodie in Park Chul-soo’s black comedy “301 302” and as the young mother in Kim Ki-duk’s “Address Unknown.” On late October release last year, “Aurora” drew positive reviews but only an OK 800,000 admissions ($4.9 million); however, it’s a good bet for specialist ancillary in the West.

Movie starts gangbusters with mild looking, thirtysomething Jeong Sun-jeong (Eom) making sashimi of a woman who bullies a young girl in a department store’s restroom. Investigating cop Oh Seong-ho (Mun Seong-geun), who’s studying to become a pastor, and his loose-cannon sidekick (Gweon Oh-jung), are initially flummoxed, though Oh has his private suspicions as to who’s the perp.

Jeong’s killing spree swiftly continues with two more neatly staged and edited sequences, suffocating a bitch-on-wheels friend (Hyeon Yeong) in a beauty parlor and then poisoning the latter’s businessman lover (Kim Yong-geon). At each murder scene, Jeong leaves a sticker of a kid’s cartoon character, Princess Aurora, and it’s now clear she’s avenging the death of her young daughter. Why, and how she selects her victims, only emerges as pic progresses.

After seeing Jeong’s face on the department store’s CCTV tape, Oh realizes she’s the killer and arranges to meet with her, in a sequence that ends with them in the sack. She then disappears and, only after she sexually humiliates a restaurant owner’s randy son (Park Hyo-jun), does Oh come clean to his superiors.

It’s at this point, only halfway through the movie, that the script should start capitalizing on its long set-up and initial revelations. But Jeong’s character starts to become disappointingly soft as the twists and turns proliferate, and the character of Oh, who should be more conflicted given his religious studies, never develops much beyond a dedicated cop.

Finale, in a Seoul garbage dump, doesn’t live up to the promise of the earlier set pieces. However, pic does recover with an unexpected, lengthy coda.

Original screenplay, which helmer Bang co-adapted, was set in the countryside; but film gains in atmosphere from being transferred to Seoul, especially the sleek nightscapes of business district Gangnam, as lensed by Choi Yong-hwan.

Eom, whose screen career has mostly been as sexy, forthright women in romantic comedies, is much more buttoned up here, literally and figuratively. She’s fine as the icy killer, less so in the more emotional third act. Mun, one of South Korea’s best actors, is OK with what he’s given. Supporting roles, especially Choi Jong-weon as Oh’s offbeat boss, are richly drawn.

Tech package is slick, with Jeong Je-hyeong’s music supplying genre flavor.

Princess Aurora

South Korea

Production

A CJ Entertainment, Cinema Service release and presentation, in association with Chungmuro Fund, of an East Film production. (International sales: CJ, Seoul.) Produced by Myeong Gye-nam. Directed by Bang Eun-jin. Screenplay, Bang, Kim Chang-re, from an original screenplay, "Bite" (Ibjil), by Seo Min-heui.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Choi Yong-hwan; editor, Kim Hyeon; music, Jeong Je-hyeong; production designer, Jeon Su-ah; costume designer, Jo Yun-mi; action choreographer, Che Su-am. Reviewed on videodisc, London, Jan. 9, 2006. (In Berlin Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 106 MIN.

With

Eom Jeong-hwa, Mun Seong-geun, Gweon Oh-jung, Choi Jong-weon, Hyeon Yeong, Kim Yong-geon, Kim Ik-tae, Park Hyo-jun, Jang Hyeon-seong.
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