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Review © Mandi Apple, 2006.

Directed by Park Ki-hyung, 2000, 105 mins., starring Kim Seung-woo, Yun Mi-jo, Jeong Hyeon-woo, and Park Eun-suk.

Directed by Park Ki-hyung in 2000, Bimil (sometimes called The Secret, sometimes Secret, and sometimes Secret Tears, which, given the nature of the piece, seems to be the most appropriate title of all) is another fairly low-profile South Korean title which deserves far more credit than it's received. Immediately following on from his breakthrough success with Whispering Corridors in 1998, and preceding his masterpiece title Acacia, Bimil is, admittedly, an altogether more low-key affair, but a wonderful piece for all that.

Make no mistake, this is one of the most beautiful-looking films it's ever been my pleasure to watch. It is full of stunningly gorgeous visuals from the outset: later, Acacia would go on to improve on Bimil even further in that respect. In many ways, Bimil is quite clearly the artistic bridge between Whispering Corridors and Acacia, and it's interesting to see how the director's visual style evolved dramatically over the course of three movies. Park Ki-hyung's grasp of romantic, rich, emotionally striking cinematography is almost unparalleled. Interestingly, whilst this movie bears much resemblance to Acacia, it also bears much more resemblance to Memento Mori - the second movie in the Yeogo goedam series of movies, and not actually the one Park Ki-hyung himself directed (Whispering Corridors) - in both plotting and atmosphere. And even more peculiarly, towards the end Bimil develops shades of Brian DePalma's seminal delivery of Stephen King's Carrie, the story of which quite obviously informed this movie's plot.

Weird usage of time delays and dreamlike, hallucinatory sequences add well to the strange, eerie ambience of the piece. Haunting, sparse use of incidental music works very well to emphasise the drifting atmospherics, and in much the same way that Shinya Tsukamoto used heavy rain in his work A Snake of June symbolically, as well as using it to add a feeling of claustrophobia and isolation, Bimil also features much symbolic water - not merely in the title, but also in the plot, the title screen, the logo and almost every scene of the movie, even as a visual element or a background sound, to great effect.

The acting is very understated throughout: Kim Seung-woo delivers a compelling and subtle performance as the troubled main protagonist Gu-ho. By contrast, all his female counterpart Yun Mi-jo delivers is a kind of simpering doe-eyed silence, looking all the while either like a shojo manga character come to life, or a slightly stunned frog, depending on your preference. Mind you, she has very little to work with, so you have to feel some sympathy for her - all she does is wander around staring at things, mostly. The other two main actors both give great support to Kim Seung-woo and turn in quietly accomplished performances.

Synopsis

A young man named Gu-ho (Kim Seung-woo), who is more than a little tipsy, and his two friends, Hyeon-nam (Jeong Hyeon-woo) and his girlfriend Do-kyung (Park Eun-suk), accidentally run down a young girl (Yun Mi-jo) whilst driving home from a bar. The impact of the car is so hard that her body is literally thrown into the air, and she is knocked unconscious. In time-honoured horror movie tradition (just the same as in, say, the opening sequences of Shutter, or Ju-on: The Grudge 2, both of which this movie predates by quite some years), Gu-ho wants to take the girl to a hospital, but Hyeon-nam tries to persuade him to leave her behind at the scene as a hit-and-run.

While they are deciding, though, the girl opens her eyes - and something very strange happens between her and Gu-ho. Eventually, he elects not to just dump her and run, and decides to take her to the hospital the next day. Checking through her pockets for some form of ID, the driver finds a bunch of keys with a picture keyring on it, featuring a photo of the girl with a friend about the same age, and a gold ring, hidden away in a handkerchief. He also discovers her name: Mi-jo.

In the meantime, after returning to work leaving the girl sleeping in his apartment, Gu-ho starts to have hallucinations of both an auditory and visual kind, which disturb him greatly.

After a visit to the hospital, it turns out that Mi-jo has amnesia caused by the accident - but that's all she's suffered. Not even a bruise to show that she was thrown into the air by a car, which perplexes Gu-ho completely. He realises that he will have to take responsibility for the girl because he can't explain to anyone who she is and how he came to be involved with her, so he takes her back to his apartment again.

However, Gu-ho seems to be fast developing an emotional attachment to Mi-jo. But just how emotional is 'emotional'? If he's falling in love with her, the age difference and the youth of the girl makes such a relationship somewhat morally unacceptable - especially to the concern of his friends, who wonder aloud if he's suffering from a lolita complex. To all outside purposes, he pretends to act in a fatherly fashion towards her, although it's still pretty obvious those are not his true feelings.

Through certain events taking place, Gu-ho realises that she has a unique way of talking to him secretly: through telepathy, both through words and through her being able to show him the images she sees through her own eyes. Evidently, when their eyes met and something passed between them in the car after the accident, they became connected on a profound level. He encourages her to develop her psychic, telekinetic and telepathic powers because he really is falling in love with her, to the outrage and disgust of his friends, and it makes him feel good to know that she is always connected to him, always in communication with him, and he gets insight into her thoughts, moods and even what she's looking at, deepening his perception of her.

Worried about the mental state of his friend, Hyeon-nam does a bit of digging, and finds out that Mi-jo has a tragic background: apparently her parents died recently in a mysterious fire. However, on further investigation, Hyeon-nam begins to find out some unnerving details about the way in which her parents died, and starts to uncover the truth behind the accident, which makes him truly afraid for the life of his friend, especially now Mi-jo's powers are becoming stronger and stronger - and getting out of control.

Forget Kim Ki-duk or, especially so, Ahn Byeong-ki: Park Ki-hyung is truly the master of artistic Korean horror cinema. For my money he qualifies to be the Korean equivalent of Kiyoshi Kurosawa. His style, however, definitely won't be everyone's bag: certainly the mainstream of horror fans will mostly be turned off by his unwillingness to give them cheap scares, preferring instead to explore human psychology and relationship dynamics, build atmosphere and macabre intrigue rather than smacking them in the face with spooks and monsters. And whilst his super-slow pacing may not suit all tastes - Acacia pretty much outdid the previous benchmark of slowness, Kurosawa's Charisma, by quite some margin, and if anything this movie is slower still - his general body of work is so much more profound and rewarding than most genre movies.

Whilst not being a high-profile title outside of its country of origin, this movie has certainly proved itself somewhat influential on other K-horror directors: this movie will almost surely have informed the Korean segment (Kim Ji-woon's Memories) of the Asian anthology Three (which is shown by several obvious visual nods in the latter), as well as later and infinitely lesser films like Sorum.

A word of caution, though: the English subtitles on the Spectrum DVD release are abominable, and reach depths of sheer suckitude not seen by your humble reviewer since she last bunged The Ring Virus in the DVD player about four years ago.

Bimil is a beguilingly beautiful work which plays on all the viewer's senses, rich with gorgeous imagery, high emotion and unsettling atmospherics: like Acacia, it portrays a methodical, melancholic study of dysfunctional relationships, disintegrating due to both external and internal stresses, and in this movie's case, focusing very distinctly on personal ethics and the psychology of denial.

But can you really call it a horror movie? This is a question which was raised concerning Acacia, which featured a distinct lack of "scares" but a disturbing and chilling plot, and to which I would personally answer, yes, without any hesitation. This plot, it must be said, is a bit thinner than Acacia's, although Park's unusual non-linear approach lends it more interest than it really deserves on its own merit. And if anything, it has even less horror content to categorise it as a genre work than Acacia did. So if you're looking for big scares, jumps and anything by the way of conventional 'horror', I beg you, leave this movie alone and then you won't feel disappointed.

A beautiful, moving, poetic psychodrama with supernatural and suspense elements, Bimil is more than worth every moment of the time and thought you bring to it. Just be warned that it doesn't deliver a scare a second.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:

Entertainment Value: 7/10
Chills: 4/10
Suspense: 6/10
Sex: 1/10
Violence: 3/10
Frog-faced Lolitas: 1
Frog-faced pink-haired Lolitas: 1
Litres of tomato ketchup: a small bucketful
Litres of water: enough rain to keep a battalion of umbrella salesmen very happy indeed

Films in a Similar Style: Acacia, Memento Mori, A Tale of Two Sisters

*** Slow, quiet and beautiful ***

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Bimil Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.

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Wallpaper credit: Mandi Apple, 2006

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Park Ki-hyung

Links

There's very little around on the movie - it's very slim pickings I'm afraid...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZN6EXNTw3Q - trailer on youtube
http://www.koreanfilm.org/kfilm00.html#bimil - short review from koreanfilm.org
http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117788672?categoryid=31&cs=1 - Variety review, quite long
http://www.sanchodoesasia.com/article.php3?id_article=288 - Sancho does Bimil!
http://global.yesasia.com/en/PrdDept.aspx/code-k/section-videos/pid-1001815911/ - about the only place you can get hold of Bimil is at yesasia.com

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