Yoo-Jin, a new girl from Seoul living in a small rural village prejudiced against outsiders joins with her two friends to curse the bullies in school who torment them on a regular basis. Calling upon the spirit Bunshinsaba little do they know the results will be terrifying, with a string of unexplainable deaths to follow and ghostly goings on that will uncover long kept secrets of the village.
From Ahn Byeong-ki, director of Phone, Bunshinsaba is another in a long-line of Asian horror movies to rely upon high-school girls and a grizzly incident in the locals' history for its series of scares. Although visually and aurally quite adept with suitably creepy locales, lighting and an effective original orchestral score to accompany the well engineered sound mix, Bunshinsaba suffers from being so utterly predictable with sign posts to all of its major plot points. From the opening scene in which Yoo-Jin and her friends hold a séance to curse their tormentors we are fully aware of the changes which are about to fall on the lead character as she breaks her own rule allowing the spirit being called upon to possess her. Then on the same day in which the first of a string in gruesome deaths fall upon the bullies cursed a new teacher arrives from Seoul, and quickly unveils a name in the village's past which causes erratic behaviour from the elders and resonates deeply with the children. These elements plus many more including the throwaway introduction of a local spiritualist will drive the keen horror viewers out there to piece together the basics of the mystery before the first twenty minutes are up. Indeed one even wonders if the director realises and planned for this, as the film moves along at a blistering pace in its opening third setting up characters, relationships and numerous deaths to the point where its hard to imagine how the film will sustain its mystery for a full ninety minutes.
Enter the spiritualist then for the second act in which your predictions will be confirmed and elaborated upon through greatly enhanced theatrics employing ‘over acting 101’ along with roaring sound effects and more grizzly deaths, none of which particularly stand out though thanks to the method chosen requiring brave stunt men and shaky camera work to achieve. That seeing one such death once should have sufficed we are instead asked to leave our imaginations at the door and watch several, while the story continues apace to introduce the inevitable - though hardly difficult to see coming - twist. Alright you may not guess the outcome or the exact specifics, but throughout the entire film there has been one character signposted for greater things and hints like these never lie. The real problem with Bunshinsaba is not the predictable storyline or even the trademark and much overused tracking shots which move from cheek to cheek around the back of characters’ heads revealing an eerie face or hand in the background. No, it's a series of throwaway one-note characters who serve merely to die or move the story along and the overblown theatrics which punctuate the latter two thirds of the movie and start giving rise to laughter as opposed to tension as the end finally looms into sight. Which is a real shame considering the opening third hints at a more reserved approach to the horror elements, one that builds atmosphere and relies upon the viewer’s imagination which is fed by hints rather than graphic visual descriptions. Ultimately it’s an opening which suggests the director has more imagination than a ghost which descends to such simple methods as knifing her victims to death!
IVL present Bunshinsaba on a Region 3 coded DVD which includes both English and Chinese menu systems making this an easy DVD to navigate. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen the transfer is very respectable as you would expect for such a recent production. The print itself is virtually dust and grime free while high detail levels are maintained across the feature's varied lighting conditions. Colour and black levels are very satisfying, with deep bloody reds and icy cold skin tones matching the intended visual design. In terms of audio you will find Korean DD5.1 Surround and DTS 5.1 Surround, tracks which fully immerse you in the effective sound design employed which ranges from gentle orchestral accompaniment to crashing storms and eerie ghostly whispers in amongst many piercing screams. To get the most out Bunshinsaba's rather base scare tactics you'll want to crank this one up, and these tracks more than suffice with the DTS offering the edge should you be looking for one.
Optional English subtitles are presented in a slightly small but still perfectly readable font and aside from a few minor grammatical blunders are timed well and are very easy to follow. Optional Chinese, Korean and Malaysian subtitles are also present.
The only bonus feature is an audio commentary which sadly is in Korean and only has optional Chinese subtitles to accompany it.
Bunshinsaba is another disappointment for those looking for clever original entries in the Asian horror genre, but one that is relatively entertaining on an 'assaulting the senses' level. Fans of Phone will also get a kick out of the final reveal which is a welcome nod to the audience from the director.