(29/05/08)

"They say hair lives off of peoples’ memories"

Many horror films, particularly those of a supernatural bent, often expect the viewer to exhort some degree of suspension of disbelief and run with what is on paper, and in the cold light of day, probably a preposterous proposition. Two popular sub-genres of the supernatural film are the "transplant getting hold of the recipient" film, typified by films such as Mad Love (1935) and The Eye and the "possessed unlikely object film" as seen in Dead of Night (1945) and the spooky tree horror Acacia.

The Wig falls into both of these subgenres as it deals with the story about an evil wig. Yes, you read that correctly and probably have already formed preconceptions about some laughable B-Movie or deliberately kitsch exercise in poor taste a la Killer Tongue. But no, for the most part The Wig is a restrained story about love, loss and death, about relationships, communication and breakdowns. Rather like the aforementioned (also South Korean film) Acacia the horror is more of a peg onto which a drama is hung. That is not to say The Wig lacks gore and shock but these play second fiddle to an examination into sibling relationships.

The back story is pure pulp: a wig manufacturer dies finishing his final wig, his blood spilling on the hairpiece, a construct made from the real hair of a suicide victim unleashing the malevolent spirit within. The opening shows asphyxiation by hair but the melodramatics are quickly brushed aside (boom-boom!) as the tale takes a turn towards a low-key sombre direction. Su-Hyeon is dying of leukaemia, her head bald following chemotherapy, her routine in her last days involves taking handfuls of pills to make her inevitable end less painful.

Her sister, Ji-Hyeon, tries to make her final days more bearable by keeping the information about her terminal condition from her and, in order to make her feel more confident, buying her a wig to hide the baldness. But that wig is the aforementioned "cursed by a dying wig maker and a suicide case" and this, naturally, is not a good thing. Su-Hyeon begins to start hallucinating and the hair seems to have a life of its own, billowing out unexpectedly and mysteriously being found in a different location to where it was left. Su-Hyeon deliberately stops taking her pills and her relationship with her sister becomes progressively fractured. Most strange of all her real hair seems to be growing back and a progress check-up with her doctor leads to surprising revelations…

In terms of particularly South East Asian horror tropes The Wig offers little to deviate from the tried and tested formula, particularly when regarding the titular hair. It comes as no surprise to see strands creeping around in an unholy fashion, emerging from cracks or working their way inexorably up a flight of stairs – so far, so Ringu (1999), so Ju-On (2003). Likewise the film isn’t short of shocking or bloody episodes, most notably an unnerving scene where Su-Hyeon excretes pills from her scalp until she is left maniacally grinning underneath a mask of congealing blood.

But despite all this The Wig remains at heart a film about bodily disintegration (shades of Cronenberg here) mixed with the ever popular Korean drama format. As the film takes increasingly varied looks at the way people interact (a bloody suicide pact between a man and his wife more concerned about the shame of divorce than their deaths) comes to the surface the communications take on more tragic turns as Su-Hyeon increasingly becomes detached from her previous life and becomes more possessed by the spirit in the wig. Even though the wig is doing evil things it isn’t in itself inherently evil but frustrated by doomed romance, rejected propositions and heartfelt longing. Su-Hyeon’s metamorphosis becomes more than mental and takes on physical changes in her that take the film in directions that question personality and sexuality, mortality and desire. The film’s final act becomes increasingly hyperactive in its revelations of fidelity and sexuality.

Tartan’s DVD reproduces the low-key visuals adequately, this is for the most part naturalistic in look, but sadly is devoid of any extra material bar the trailer. It would have been nice to see the director’s award winning short Bread and Milk included but so it goes. The Wig is a compelling but odd combination of horror truisms, the journey towards death and sexual political drama.

The Wig is out now. Please follow the links provided to buy a copy and support Kamera by doing so.