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Princess Aurora
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by Jay Seaver

"Nice serial killers are much more disturbing than the other kind."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: The name suggests a fun family adventure, and within the world of the movie, there is a TV show called "Princess Aurora" that's popular with young children. What the film actually delivers, though, is the hunt for a serial killer whose motives initially baffle the police and the audience, even as we follow her closely.

This film is a "howgetum" rather than a whodunit; we see who the killer is right off. It's Jung Soon-jung (Eom Jeong-hwa), an attractive Porsche salesperson in her early thirties who just seems to flip out when confronted by a pretty young trophy wife hitting her seven-year-old step-daughter, escorting the girl out of the ladies' room before brutally stabbing the woman to death. It's then we meet the detectives called to the scene, Jung (Gweon Oh-jung) and Oh Sung-soo (Mun Seong-Geun). Oh intends to leave the force to become a Christian pastor. This case will speed his exit from the force, though, once he pieces enough together to figure out that Soon-jung is involved; a scene that jumps from him making a phone call to her ignoring one suggests that they have a past connection. He's the one who recognizes the significance of the "Princess Aurora" stickers left at each crime scene.

As a standard-issue cops hunting a serial killer movie, this has a number of fun elements. Most of Soon-jung's victims are callous enough that we think she may be killing them just because they rubbed her the wrong way, and some of her murders are creative in a nasty way: There's a certain perverse delight to seeing a vain, bitchy woman suffocated during her spa treatment. The characters at the police station would be well-suited to a continuing series: The bespectacled, devout Oh is a skilled and observant detective, who works well with his younger, scruffy-but-capable partner. The captain (Choi Jong-weon) is a fun supporting character.

The trouble is that once things come together, things don't step up to the next level. The same incident set both Soon-jung and Sung-soo on their respective and opposite paths, but once what's going on becomes clear, the characters get less interesting: Oh really should be more troubled by what he's seeing from Soon-jung, but he's got no outlet with which to communicate that. Similarly, Soon-jung develops a somewhat standard crazy serial-killer tic which we've seen countless times before, and though it pays off nicely in the film's last sequence, the part of the film that stretches from Oh telling his colleagues what he knows about Soon-jung and that last part is disappointing - we've seen this sort of stuff before, and the film just seems to be going through the motions.

This doesn't reflect poorly on the cast; the two principles are very good individually, enough that we'd kind of like to see them play off each other more. Mun Seong-Geun is particularly strong in the procedural scenes, inhabiting his character to make us believe in his day-to-day life, and putting across that he's probably trying to use his newfound religion to dodge the uglier aspects of his life. Eom Jeong-hwa is apparently best known for light romantic comedies, and if so, the way she plays against type here is double effective - she makes Soon-jung able to turn her charm on easily, but also completely sells her shocking brutality and rage; she goes from two kinds of hot to cold without a hitch, which is why we might like to see a little more intensity when just how nuts her character is is revealed; it's a little flat compared to the rest. Gweon Oh-jung sort of recedes to the background as the movie goes on; he's a steady presence, but it's not his story.

The film is directed by Bang Eun-jin, who also worked on the screenplay. Ms. Bang makes her feature directing debut, and does fairly well with it; she's got a good eye for the camera. The pacing could use a little bit of work, but she does a great job with her actors. I'd like a little more attention paid the the procedural details, since having Oh remain on the case after a certain point is kind of ridiculous, but the snappiness of the dialogue manages to penetrate the subtitles, and she gets good performances out of her entire cast.

It is a relatively unique premise - comparing it to American films, I can't really imagine Ashley Judd in the villain role - and the film shows promise. For the work of a first-time director, it's pretty solid work, even if there's enough good genre movies coming out of Korea that this doesn't quite stand out that far from the crowd.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14780&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/08/06 10:30:44
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Fantasia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

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