The Uninvited

I guess I’m enamored by the dark stuff. I just finished watching a fantastic Korean horror film called The Uninvited. The Korean name is “A Table For Four,” or 4인용 식탕. Adding to the multi-title confusion, there’s also a U.S. film called The Uninvited, a remake of, not this Uninvited, but a different Korean movie, my favorite so far, A Tale Of Two Sisters, or in Korean, 장화, 홍련.

Confused? Nevermind. The point is this Korean movie is called, in the English world, The Uninvited, and it’s outstanding.

Korean horror films are not really horror films. I would call them scary, psychological dramas. What makes U.S. or European horror different from Korean “horror” is that in the former style, the terror exists outside the individual; in the Korean style, the terror resides almost fully inside the mind. This makes it fun because you’re never sure what’s real and what’s imagined. There is no supernatural boogey man out there. What’s out there is the all too natural world, a world that is sometimes cruel and tragic. What’s horrific is how these characters cope when tragedy strikes.

Now, to be fair, in The Uninvited, as in A Tale Of Two Sisters, there is a supernatural component. But that’s not the story, it’s a device. The story is all too human. What I like about The Uninvited is that it’s so Korean. If people would just talk to each other, open up, trust one another, things might work out okay. But Koreans are more apt to internalize difficult emotions. There’s no seeking of help, and god forbid you should talk to your fiancée about your strange visions while she’s trying to plan the wedding invitations. Keep up appearances, deny the problems, and hope that they’ll go away. I suspect that this is much of the unique artistry of Korean movie directors. They know this, and it’s a way of shining a light on this particular aspect of culture. I’m guessing, but that’s my suspicion because it’s a very common thread.

I read a review of this movie after watching it on the excellent I completely disagree with the reviewer, however, who said the movie was too long and (without giving an explanation) “flawed.” I realized it was long while it was happening, but I didn’t care. I was completely involved from start to finish. Unlike many Korean films, there’s no wasted time, and not a single wasted scene. Things move along quickly and naturally, and all of the complicated plot elements are sequenced perfectly.

I don’t want to mention much about the story because it would only take away from it. This is not a simple story. It is, in fact, two separate stories that intersect through the two main characters. They share something that I don’t want to reveal. It’s not something unique to cinema, but it is in the way they come to terms with it. Lee Su-yeon is both the writer and director for The Uninvited. I commend her writer side for constructing a story that is both intricate in detail and deep in its emotional punch. And I commend her director side for trusting her story and giving all of it the space it required.

The Uninvited is an aesthetically rich feast in both sound and images. Sounds pull in and out diegetically to give you that “what the hell?” kind of feeling. Is this music or sound? In one scene we get a visual flashback, but the dialog track is bandpass filtered like a tape machine. We see the flashback as it was then; but someone is listening to a tape recording of that moment so what we hear is the present. There are also several offscreen sound clues that come into play later. I love it when filmmaker is sensitive enough to sound to use it as a foreshadowing device, or a means of building motifs, much like a composer would. Light plays another important role. It is used to falsely idealize aspects of domesticity in some areas, and in one particular scene, to reveal, harshly, a subjective “truth” that is actually a delusion. Color comes and goes. Things dim to gray in the present day or become saturated in memory.

I have to give the reviewer credit, however, for highlighting an aspect that I thought of as well watching the movie. That is the anonymity of apartment life in Korea. This is a country filled with towering, soul-less apartment complexes. People come home to disappear into obscurity and conformity. While everything may look identical, strange things are happening inside. In The Uninvited, there’s a memorable shot of a man crying and we kind of peer inside from a distance, seeing the surrounding units reflected in the window. It’s an amazing shot.

I want to see more from this writer/director. But I can’t find any additional information on her. She has no Wikipedia entry, and Google wasn’t much help either. While something in me likes the idea of the reclusive director, I also want to see her do more. This is the only film of hers I could find out there and it’s now six years old. I hope she hasn’t given up her craft.



3 Responses to “The Uninvited”

  1. Where did you find it? Did you rent a dvd? I really want to see it now, maybe I can ask Jina if she knows anything about the director.

  2. I’ll let you borrow it Kurt. In fact, I’ve got a stack of DVDs for you and Jina to watch if you want.

    btw, it looks like a new DVD version is being released Sept. 29:

  3. Jim here is a link to the director you’re interested in.
    It would be great if I could borrow any of the dvd’s you have.
    See you soon.

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