For his directorial debut, scriptwriter Hun-Su Park modernized a popular folklore tale about a fox woman who desperately wishes to become fully human. The result, GUMIHO (literally, fox girl), is an intriguing blend of romance, eroticism and fantasy, exquisitely photographed.
The tortured love of the beautiful Harah for handsome Hyuk is portrayed with unusual sensitivity for a fantasy film. Ironically, to become human, Harah must drain Hyuk of his life force. The conflict between this necessity and Harah's feelings for Hyuk create a strained relationship, except when they're making love. Western viewers are likely to recognize elements of Jacques Tourneur's CAT PEOPLE. Complicating things are the efforts of 69, a prisoner from hell who's been assigned to enslave Harah. The machinations of 69 and his human disciple to destroy the relationship provide enough comic relief to prevent the film becoming too somber.
Both young leads, in their first feature film starring roles, are attractive and have a subtle chemistry. Their scenes together are generally excellent.
Fantasy elements are quite accomplished. They include a depiction of hell as resembling a subway station with both humorous and horrific features, including buck-passing guards and an ornate tongue guillotine. Harah's transformations and fox-woman make-up are not specially remarkable, but her flying scenes are impressive. Her attacks on humans are restrained, but still gory.
The film's main fault is its length. The middle section, which contains several pointless scenes, would have benefited from more disciplined editing. Still, GUMIHO is a very promising debut for its director and stars.
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