Korea (2019) Dir. Yoo Sun-Dong
Did you know that 0.0mhz is the exact radio frequency at which we can contact with the spirit world? A bit like Radio 3. Yet, if we have learned anything from horror cinema, it is never to go in search for the paranormal – unless you have a secret weapon up your sleeve…
In a remote mountain village, a shaman is performing an exorcism of a house haunted by the spirit of a woman who committed suicide by hanging, but is unsuccessful and succumbs to the vengeful spirit herself. News of the incident hits the internet, drawing the attention of a college paranormal investigation club, comprised of Han-Seok (Shin Joo-Hwan), Tae-Soo (Jung Won-Chang), Yoon-Jung (Choi Yoon-Young), and newcomers Sang-Yeob (Lee Sung-Yeol) and So-Hee (Jung Eun-Ji).
The group pay a visit to the house, to see if the rumours of a ghost are true and if they can make contact with the spirit. Yoon-Jung volunteers to be the vessel for the spirit and is hooked up to their hi-tech equipment. At 2:00am, the frequency drops to 0.0mhz and Yoon-Jung is possessed by the spirit, whilst So-Hee is tormented by another malevolent presence. The boys manage to rescue Yoon-Jung and get her to hospital but the spirit refuses to leave Yoon-Jung’s body.
Former screenwriter turned director Yoo Sun-Dong brings us an adaptation of a Korean web comic by Jang Jak which, on the surface, doesn’t appear to offer much in the way of surprises or original ideas. Patience being a virtue, we have to wait until the final act for a refreshing twist on a tired concept to surface, saving 0.0 Mhz from being a rehash of K-horror clichés.
But it seems Yoo hasn’t just been mining the movie playbook from his homeland – the intrepid college paranormal group acting autonomously from the rest of the world, and tropey personalities lend themselves more to a US teen flick. Either this is a desperate attempt by Yoo to break into Tinsel Town or revenge for all the Asian films Hollywood has (badly) remade over the past twenty years.
Our first look at the main cast is straight out of Americana, with the saturnine So-Hee, with her long black hair and black attire. working in a coffee shop whilst nerdy Sang-Yeob worships her from across the way behind his laptop. At the club meeting, we see Tae-Soo is the sporty one, Han-Seok the unlikeable cynic, and blonde haired shorts-wearing Yoon-Jung the trendy one, currently dating Tae-Soo to the envy of Han-Seok.
A technical engineer student, Sang-Yeob is writing a horror novel, joining the paranormal club for research purposes (in truth, it is because he fancies So-Hee); the stoic So-Hee dryly declares she joined for fun. But there is something So-Hee hasn’t told the others – she comes from a family of shaman and can see the dead, something which has blighted her entire life, so of course she grew up wearing black and not smiling as a result.
With regard to the spirit haunting the house in the country, the backstory is at least has a more Asian flavour to it. The woman was said to be deranged and outcast by the rest of the villagers. It was a long time before her body was found, and had decayed so much, the torso separated from the head which remained in the noose. Her ghost – wait for it – with long black hair and red eyes, is said to haunt the house ever since.
So far, so textbook K-Horror, right down to the local shop owner warning the group to stay away when they stop for supplies. These kids are not mucking about though; they have superior gear to monitor any supernatural readings, video cameras, sound recording kit, and all sorts of gadgets and screens for a professional ghost hunt. Don’t ask who funds this though, we can only assume the college or a rich sponsor.
Perhaps it is little surprise that the foxy Yoon-Jung is the one who is possessed, meaning director Yoo gets to dress her up in sexy lingerie as the spirit uses her body to tempt the men in the group to see her alone then kill them. If that fails, the spirit can fall back on create illusions of something troubling them – like the younger brother Sang-Yeob left to die when he was a kid.
Except it would have been nice to have learned about these things earlier. We reach the halfway stage baffled by some of the bizarre happenings and visions that befall the protagonists only to learn the truth, leaving us to think “You’re telling us that now?”. It’s quite frustrating, not through needing to be spoon fed information, rather it comes out of nowhere, like an reason was required to facilitate the torment but nobody could figure out how to implement them into the story earlier.
Luckily, the deficits in the logic and scripting are countered by the fact the women save the day putting the ladies up front in the performance stakes too. Pop singer and TV star Jung Eun-Ji carries herself with an air of mystery as dour faced So-hee until unleashing her fierce Ghost buster side, whilst Choi Yoon-Young gets to be more than eye candy by being put through her paces during the possession scenes.
Yet, for all the efforts of the cast and the SFX crew – the spirit leaving Yoon-Jung’s body is impressive, her CGI form less so – the scares are minimal from being no different from other films. Yoo doesn’t offer any real surprises, nor is he able to build the suspension to the big scenes. He does create an eerie atmosphere during the final act to give the impression of gravid unrest, but it’s a little too late.
And the whole frequency thing? Never mentioned again after the opening act. Despite these vexing flaws there is a serviceable horror yarn in 0.0 Mhz, albeit an anodyne one short on inspiration.