Vampires - What can you say about them that hasn’t been said already? Or more to point what hasn’t been done already? Vampire mythology has been one of the most widely explored sources of entertainment for film and television of the last 100 years. The legacy of Count Dracula and his cronies have been re-imagined in numerous ways, with several modernised variations even doing away with the classic Bram Stoker leanings entirely, for better or worse. Freeze is one such example of a vampire chronicle that tries to toss aside preconception; rather it tells the story of an evolved species that has long gotten past the point of being afraid of sunlight - and who run wine bars and live in fancy apartments .
The story centres on Baek Joong-won (Lee Seo-jin), a 300 year-old vampire who now resides in Seoul. Here he’s the successful owner of the Gangnam wine bar, which he runs with his business partner and fellow vampire E-hwa (Son Tae-young). In order to survive both Joong-won and E-hwa drink blood supplied by a crooked police officer who hunts packs on the black market. When a spate of serial killings is reported on the news involving bodies being exsanguinated, with only teeth marks in necks as clues, the pair’s source of nourishment is suddenly cut dry. For many years Joong-won has longed for death, having grown tired of immortality, whilst loved ones pass on in life, but E-hwa insists that he cannot die, only endure immense withdrawal pain.
While E-hwa seeks alternative methods of acquiring fresh blood, Joong-won receives the news that an old flame has passed away in the town of Choonchun where he lived several years back. While attending the funeral he meets the woman’s teenage daughter Jung Ji-woo (Park Han-byul) and takes pity upon her, especially when her mother asked of him to take care of her. He leaves her money and tells her that he’s a relative before heading back home. Ji-woo, having fallen out with her estranged alcoholic father, decides that she hasn’t got much left to worry about, and so she decides to quit school, leave Choonchun and head out to the big city to seek work and a better life. Feigning a terminal illness she manages to worm her way into a tattoo parlour and it’s not long before she crosses paths again with Joong-won. After some mishaps, including a run-in with the police, Joong-won lets Ji-woo temporarily stay at his place, which soon proves to be the start of a blossoming relationship.
But things aren’t to be easy; E-hwa is getting weary of this new relationship and furthermore as the serial killings escalate the cops begin to tightly close in. Matters aren’t helped when the “Hwikyung Psycho” could be a close gigolo friend of Joong-won and E-hwa. How long can Joong-won keep his secret from Ji-woo? More importantly has he finally found a reason to live?
Originally envisioned as a theatrical feature over the course of a year, Freeze was given an alternative lease of life on the small screen after a sizeable script redraft. As a television drama which runs in excess of five hours Freeze does in fact offer a bit of everything for the casual viewer, being often humorous and poignant in equal measure. And indeed the television format suits it well, allowing for some lengthy character interaction. With that said, the series tends to shy away from delving too deep into anyone’s background and past life. It serves up hints as to who these people are as it gradually pieces together the mysterious jigsaw, just about relying on the most fleeting of flash backs to carry the weight of their important history, yet it’s handled nicely enough. Essentially, however, if not for the fact that our lead - and one or two others - drinks human blood, Freeze pretty much feels like many a conventional drama featuring an awkward love triangle (complete with more than a few heavy-handed K-pop ballads and sombre characters), with just a very mild spattering of violence and police corruption thrown in for good measure. The series doesn’t greatly dabble in the supernatural or ever serve up any bloody battles between good and evil; it instead examines the human heart in all its facets and questions in its own way as to who the monsters really are. What we end up with is a fairly evenly paced drama for the most part, with the final episode naturally speeding things along to its inevitable conclusion.
There are one or two hackneyed threads strung throughout the narrative though; the main one of which involves Joong-won having perpetually longed for death for three centuries. Having been told by E-hwa that death is impossible, and having put up with Hyun-joon’s various tales of how he’s tried different methods of ending his own life at some point, Joong-won mopes about feeling sorry for himself, and it never dawns on him for an instant that perhaps the solution to his problems lies in simply stopping the ol’ blood consumption. But clearly it’s a device that allows us to gain an understanding of what Freeze is meant to be about. It certainly uses a neat central gimmick to drive forward the simple tale with its self-contained message that memories and love are eternal: an existential part of life and death which far transcend our most immediate joys.
And certainly Freeze is competently carried by its director and stars to boot. Jung Jae-hoon admits that as a first project for himself he was initially hesitant and had nowhere near the kind of experience required in pulling off such a feat. Granted, while Freeze does feel rather restrained - and of course self-knowingly so - it’s a polished production in which the intimate locales serve its storyline well. With less of the environment and mood to set the tone that leaves the actors to run the gauntlet. Lee Seo-jin is effectively cast as the enigmatic Joong-won, who early on is rather conceited and rude, additionally spending much of the series’ length wallowing in self pity, but he gradually opens up and thus the character is allowed to breath a little to which Seo-jin responds with good grace. His co-star, the young and lively Park Han-byul isn’t quite as bewitching as that played by Son Tae-young, who shares a lot of screen time, but then by contrast the character of Ji-woo is a cute antithesis, being a typical teenager going through the motions of life. Ultimately the series is helped by its eclectic mixture of faces, and while director Jae-hoon has tried to avoid going all out comical it’s the tertiary characters who inject a lot of fun into the proceedings. Lee Han-wi’s turn as the Don Juan of vampires is chucklesome from time to time as is Ji-woo’s boss played by Ji Dae-han. So in all we have a rather pleasant little series that doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Freeze comes housed in a handsomely produced case from YA Entertainment. The sturdy, magnetically sealed digipack features some nice photography and holds three DVD-9 discs, with disc 1 and 2 holding two episodes each and the third containing episode 5 and the extra features.
The series is presented anamorphically in its original ratio of 1.78:1, though sadly it’s a non-progressive effort with interlacing and ghosting abound. Otherwise these are good looking discs. The colour balance is fine, having obviously been slightly de-saturated in order to gain a certain mood, while detail is generally pleasing and contrast, while a tad high, is certainly not unusual. There are no unsightly compression artefacts, which again show YA Entertainment taking some care in authoring their releases.
Likewise the Korean DD sound is perfectly suitable, offering strong clarity for dialogue and the numerous ballad-y cues that creep in every so often. Also present are optional English subtitles, which for the most part are very good, save for one or two very slight grammatical errors.
The following features are supplied with optional English subtitles and can be found on disc 5.
First up we have an interviews section which is split into two categories. The Three Colours serves up three separate interviews for principal cast members Lee Seo-jin (13.06), Park Han-byul (12.49) and Son Tae-young (11.05). Most of the time we’re shown behind the scenes footage of the cast rehearsing or filming scenes; some of which raise some smiles and others show some teasing and uncomfortable moments: in Seo-jin’s case for example seeing he and Han-byul get through their silly photo booth scene, along with situations where the lead actor hurriedly escapes the crazy fans outside. The camera is focused on him at all times, voyeuristically watching his every move and telling its own tale as we see the actor get through a long and difficult shoot. The format doesn’t really change a great deal from here, as we see similar patterns when following Han-byul and Tae-young around set. In terms of actual interviews we merely get an introductory minute from each actor who simply discusses the role they play.
About…Freeze proves to be much more in-depth. Here we have separate interviews with Director Jung Jae-hoon (8.46) and Music Director Kim Yong-hwi (7.34). Jung Jae-hoon proves to be a very open and honest director, citing his inexperience in making TV dramas as being a difficult obstacle to overcome and suggesting that financial troubles at the time was making him accept just about any project that came his way. He talks about he how became involved in the project and how it evolved from being a film script into an accessible TV series, along with providing his thoughts on the vampire angle. Much of the piece focuses on him telling us how he and his equally inexperienced crew adjusted to their new shooting conditions and how he had to work hard to control the environment. In addition he’s very frank about what he thought worked and what didn’t, saying that the final episode left him somewhat disappointed. He talks a little personal philosophy when touching upon the tattoo parlour aspects and how that ties into the joys of life, before finally celebrating his lead actors. Long time collaborator Kim Yong-hwi also discusses the difficulties in working on a TV drama for the first time. Feeling that the series comes somewhere between a motion picture and a television drama he naturally tries to score it accordingly and he explains his pleasure in having had plenty of pre-production time to find his themes, which also had its difficult moments. Again he offers his own personal thoughts on love and so on, while acknowledging Freeze as being a great learning experience for him.
Following on from these we have two behind the scenes featurettes. The Timeline of Freeze (7.45) looks at the beginning of the production in Feb 2006 through to the end of shooting in May 2006. It introduces the cast to crew and goes through the prayer ceremonies prior to filming, the advertisement/poster campaign photography, script reading process and finally end of shoot party, with a press conference placed at the end. No Good but Good Stuff (12.40) is a collection of clips showing cast and crew working hard, but above all having a lot of fun as we see from their impressive teamwork and the various goof scenes which play out; Lee Han-hwi’s scenes being the particular highlights
Finally we get a music video entitled “Fate”, which is the series’ central theme.
Freeze puts an interesting spin on the whole vampire scenario by mixing up genres a little: a hybrid of melodrama, light comedy and horror ensures that it holds our interest through to the end, even if under the surface we’ve really seen it all before.
7 out of 10
7 out of 10
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6 out of 10