Director: Jung Yong-gi
Cast: Im Eun-kyung, Kim Yu-mi, Chun Ho-jin
The idea of having baby-dolls possessed by evil spirits with the aim of avenging their fate is not new to horror movies. On the other hand, having over one hundred of such ball-jointed dolls and a production design that maximizes the sense of creepiness and lifelessness are another thing. South Korea's summer horror, Doll Master, takes advantage of such a setting by generating sense of common fear among the movie audiences who happen to have experiences of playing with their dolls and even at times have abandoned them. By having a story that is so filled with a strong feeling of sadness and regret, the movie detours to a path whereby movie audiences are invited to share common feelings of nostalgia.
Doll Master has a great start as it opens with the narrative of a love legend about a doll master, his wife and his beloved doll. The legend ends tragically and the time then moves on to the contemporary era when two men and three women with different career backgrounds assemble together in a remote Doll Gallery for the purpose of shooting as life models for the cutie dolls. The setting and the growing atmosphere of mysteriousness and mysticism look familiar if one is an avid Japanese manga reader such as the best-selling series of Kaneda Ichi no Shonen Jikenho. Doll Master raises hope as an interesting project that invites audiences to be drawn naturally into the eerie surrounding and the company of the lifeless and yet very horrible dolls. The creative set design of the Doll Gallery, the creepy as hell interior design of the sleeping rooms for our five guests, and the brilliant use of lighting all add up to augment a feeling of unspeakable and unnamable fear and horror.
The movie can be seen as structured into three parts. The first part is an introduction of the main characters and the surrounding of the alienated Doll Gallery. The second part begins to take place once we are familiar with faces and character of each of the actors. Already we are expected to encounter tons of mysteries as the movie glides us towards the incoming of a new character, Mina, played by Im Eun-kyung. She is great here as her big eyes are always filled with unbounded sadness as her female gaze follows the footsteps of Hae-mi (a leading role played by Kim Yu-mi) and a longing to be recognized by Kim. Into the middle part, the movie also turns from mystery into downright horror as the dolls begin to exact their hatred against the visitors. One by one, the visitors fall prey to the wooden dolls until the last one remains, Hae-mi. The last part somewhat ends predictably in a conventional mode as the dolls begin their pilgrimage journey as the living dead zombies, trying to seize every unit of energy of life from a living being.
Doll Master has great production settings made and a high post-production value assigned to taking great care of the details of the claustrophobic surrounding. The picking up of the dolls as a major motif is destined to put scare onto the face of female audiences as they are drawn into the complex psychological longings of their past as tender masters at one time and brutal deserters in another. The movie would benefit more if the Doll Gallery is made more fearsome bent on devouring every living being entering into its sacred garden.
One of the great spectacles about the movie has to do with the making of the many different character dolls and the whole of the indoor set of the gallery museum. The shooting of the indoor gallery setting has been made easier with the availability of the Seoul Studio Complex situated at Namyangju, Kyonggi Province. In an interview Ahn Young-jin, the line producer says that it has become more and more convenient and cost effective to make indoor sets by using the Seoul Studio Complex. The stunningly made of the indoor sets makes for great visual sight on the movie screen.
On the whole, the movie succeeds to grasp the attention of movie audiences. The movie continues to display a distinct Korean culture of nostalgic feelings about good old things past and it is this character that makes the movie more than a mere common fold of the doll-bent-on-revenge clich矇.
Cool guy(s) - Im Eun-kyung
Reviewed by: Sebastian Tse