No one resembling the fairytale heroine is sighted in this decidedly kid-unfriendly “Cinderella.” Stylishly packaged though wobbly-scripted tale of a female plastic surgeon with an unethical past and a troubled daughter owes more of a debt to the oft-imitated (and Hollywood remade) Japanese ghost story “The Grudge” (2003). Pic did reasonable biz against stiff genre competition in Korean summer release and should nip and tuck its way to decent ancillary positions in Western markets. Fests with Asian genre spotlights might also want to take a look.
Moving onwards and slightly upwards from his racy 2003 debut “The Sweet Sex and Love,” helmer Bong Man-dae’s sophomore effort capitalizes on more highly marketable material. Namely: plastic surgery, which enjoys high rates of popularity and social acceptance in South Korea, particularly among women in their twenties. Theme has even attracted arthouse favorite Kim Ki-duk, whose relationship drama “Time” hit local screens in tandem with “Cinderella.”
Center stage here is body sculptor Yoon-hee (Do Ji-won), a single mother with a surgery conveniently located in the house she shares with sensible 20-ish daughter, Hyun-soo (Shin Se-kyung). Mum’s especially popular with Hyun-shoo’s art school classmates, several of whom have used her skills to achieve the much-desired Korean quality of ul-jjang (the perfect face).
These ditzy girls are hardly convincing as aspiring artists, and scenes of them wielding sculpting tools on clay figures come off as a clunky attempt to draw some sort of “like mother, like daughter’s friends” parallel.
Matters pick up once a ghostly figure appears, claiming to want its face back. Upshot is a sudden compulsion among the girls to undo their facial surgery with their bare hands. With the help of good prosthetics work, pic ramps up as incidents multiply and Hyun-soo begins to have serious doubts about her identity. A nasty secret in the cellar and childhood flashbacks bring events to an energetic, if somewhat confused, finale with more double whammies than it needs.
Assisted by quality thesping from his leading ladies, Bong controls psychodrama elements nicely and delivers a decent quota of shocks during surprise ghost visits.
Pristine lensing by Kim Hyun-tae is the highlight of a classy package that’s the perfect advertisement for technical advancements made in Korean genre cinema over the past few years. Subtle, well positioned score by Hyun Jin-young avoids genre cliches.