Hansel & Gretel (2007)

Director:  Yim Pil-Sung
Cast:  Cheon Jeong-myeong, Jang Young-nam, Jin Ji-hee
Plot:  After meeting an mysterious girl on an dark stretch of road, a young salesman is invited to a beautiful house with bizarre secrets and no way to escape.

Genre:  Drama / Fantasy / Horror
Awards:  -
Runtime:  117min
Rating:  PG for some disturbing scenes.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) earned a handsome profit at the box-office, but it was by many accounts one of the worst films of the year.  Reimagining the brother-sister duo as bounty hunters who track and kill witches, the Jeremy Renner action vehicle was a creative misstep that attempted to re-mythologize old, classic characters for a modern audience. 

You have to turn back the clock to 2007 for one of the better screen adaptations of the Hansel and Gretel story – a South Korean horror film directed by Yim Pil-Sung, who previously made Antarctic Journal (2005) whose plot sounds eerily similar to John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).

Perhaps the words ‘adaptation’ and ‘horror’ don’t quite aptly capture Yim’s film, which is more precisely a subversion of the original story by the Brothers Grimm that works as a fantasy-drama with horror elements rather than a horror picture in the purist sense. 

In the fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel are abandoned in the deep forest only to find a house made up of gingerbread and candy.  They are lured in by a starving cannibalistic witch who is desperate to fatten them up and bake them in her oven.  Yim’s film, on the other hand, is conceptualized inside-out – the children victimize the adults instead – and this makes it an intriguing watch.

Somewhat reminding of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) in its setting of mood, Hansel & Gretel is not as richly-layered.  However, it remains focused on character and story unlike some horror movies that are assembled like a series of cheap jump scares. 

Yim skillfully brings us through the ‘House of Happy Children’ – the colourful setting for most of the film.  It is bizarre and strange like a dark visual lullaby that reveals macabre secrets about the history of the house and its inhabitants.  This takes it to the ‘haunted-house movie’ territory, but it never falls into the easy trap of mediocrity.

Nevertheless, Hansel & Gretel could have been more involving with a tighter edit.  It builds up to an excellent climax, only to waste its potential with a long-winded ending that has far too much exposition.  As a result, some of the emotions and energies dissipate, rendering the film less powerful than what it could have been. 

Still, Yim’s film manages to be evocative of the notion that fairy tales can be dark, morbid and subversive… not that the original Hansel and Gretel story is already disturbing enough.

Verdict:  A fantasy-drama with horror elements that is conceptually intriguing, but is in need of a tighter edit to be more satisfying. 


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