Hansel and Gretel Review

The Film

I've written before about children and my particular dislike of them. In the fictional world my antipathy to sprogs is often far worse as representations of kids seem to be so obviously twee and untrue. Films which capture childhood honestly are rare, and films that capture some of the horrors of being a vulnerable little human are even more rare. For all my usual prejudice, movies which truly illustrate the terrible pain of being small and scared move me more than I can adequately describe.

Hansel and Gretel is one such film. It is a horror movie but much in the vein of how Tim Burton has tried to make horror; it is a fairytale gone wrong with a profound pain at its heart. Watching it is often a visual delight but regularly and most tellingly an agony of sentiment where the viewer is trapped between the desire to rescue the vulnerable and the need to flee the impossible commitment.

From a very swift set up of Eun-soo rowing on his mobile phone whilst driving followed by the inevitable accident, we are soon welcomed into the impossibly wishful world of three children and their chintzy parents. Eun-soo is rescued by the eldest daughter wearing a red riding hood cloak and carrying a lamp, and taken into the almost gingerbread family home complete with white picket fence. The people he meets are too true to be believed and soon the dinners of fondant fancies and fairy cakes begin to suffocate him.

The remainder of the film has the children trying out new parents and switching between being the villains and the victims of the story. With the possible exception of Eun-soo, adults are a fairly rum lot who run the gamut from abusers to sickening zealots. The film allows the children's motivation to be revealed in a flashback sequence which flies in the face of the cuteness and eerie picture postcard images before it, and at the movie's end they transcend their cottage in the woods to join the world of the city.

Unsettling and brilliant at evoking the world of fantasy and folklore, this is a brilliant piece of design and photography. The actual screenplay feels 20 minutes too long but the direction of the film maintains a perfect tone which allows the twists, the emotions and the tension to be evoked without overdosing on schmaltz or being too adult. The director is greatly helped by three excellent performances by his child actors which allow them to remain sympathetic because of the earnestness of their needs.

Nearly every frame is a delight, the acting is superb and you will be moved and spooked. Hansel and Gretel will appeal to those wanting something with the tone of films like The Devil's Backbone or The Orphanage, but told with a much more magical emphasis.

Transfer and Sound

Unless my computer is playing tricks, this is a NTSC interlaced transfer which often means that for tableaux the picture looks perfectly fine. Unfortunately, things are less impressive when the action is in motion with some noticeable combing and occasional murkiness. It is sharp and the representation here allows for plenty of information even if it is not as impressive a package as I imagine this colourful film may deserve.

Two Korean soundtracks are offered with a stereo track recorded at 224 kbits and a 5.1 mix available at twice that rate. The first track is perfectly serviceable lacking distortion or source issues, but the 5.1 mix is definitely richer and even if the surround channels are little used other than for atmosphere this is the better of the two options. The optional English subtitles have a couple of typing mistakes but the translation does seems easy to follow.

Discs and Special Features

Using up to 95% of the dual layer disc, this region 2 presentation has an extensive making of documentary, 2 interviews with crew, and a number of trailers for other Terracotta product. The trailers begin the disc before you get to a menu and they are very variable in video quality with the God Man Dog one looking a bit like a youtube clip. The interviews concentrate on the look of the film with the effects director celebrating that such a fantasy led film could come from South Korea and explaining how he developed the effects along the lines of the director's thoughts during the shoot. The production designer describes how she met the director's vision of creating locations which emphasised immaturity and childish dreams based on the foreign European notions of the original fairytale. There is also a stunning opportunity to watch a member of the crew hang a curtain - really!

The interviews and documentary are presented non-anamorphically. In the documentary, there's plenty of the thoughts of the director and his ease with the children is quite obvious. Some of the footage has not been subtitled which is a little annoying, but this piece does warmly capture the camaraderie between cast and crew on set.


Not a bad product at all, and an intriguing film. This is definitely something to reassure disappointed Asian horror fans and you will come away believing that good genre movies still get made across that continent.

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