An early South Korean horror classic from the underrated Lee Yong-min
When well-versed cinephiles bring up the Golden Era of classic South Korean cinema, the names Kim Ki-young and Shin Sang-OK are usually mentioned in high regard. However, the name Lee Yong-min is rarely mentioned, and it's a shame as Yong-min would be an the early pioneer of modern horror cinema in South Korea during the 1960s and 1970s, with others following suit. And yet, very few of his cinematic filmography has survived; his first horror film "A Flower of Evil" (1961; South Korean title: "Ag-ui Kkot") is officially "lost" and has yet to surface. Luckily, some of Yong-min's movies, be it horror or otherwise, have been rescued by the Korean Film Archive(KOFA), but they are rarely screened, suggesting that Yong-min has been passed off as a standard B-horror filmmaker of little note. That's a shame because his work is certainly rife for rediscovery; his black-and-white horror tale "A Bloodthirsty Killer" (South Korean title: "Sal-inma") is a perfect example of Yong-min's creative take on the supernatural-revenge.
"A Bloodthirsty Killer" opens during a rainstorm with main character Lee Shi-mok (played by Lee Yea-chun) arriving at a local art exhibit. It turns out the exhibit is closed and all the paintings are gone, with the exception of 'The Red Portrait' featuring the image of his late wife Ae-Ja. Shi-mok takes a closer look at the painting, yet the image begins to melt before his very eyes! Shi-mok catches a cab and the driver forcefully takes him to see artist Park Joon-chul (Chu Seok-yang), the man responsible for the portrait. Joon-chul proceeds to give Shi-mok his own copy of the painting; then Joon-chul hides Shi-mok under the bed as Ae-Ja (Do Kum-bong) appears, stabs the artist in the back and she disappears via taking the form of a cat! Ae-Ja seeks vengeance on Shi-mok, his present wife Hye-sook (Lee Bin-hwa), his dominant mother Heo (Jeong Ae-ran) and their children, but Shi-mok remains confused as to why Ae-Ja wants to destroy them.
While it's obvious Yong-min was working on a tight budget and some of the limitations show, nevertheless "A Bloodthirsty Killer" is a perfect example of a genuinely original and creative horror tale, and one that is quite unique in itself. Yong-min takes advantage of the creepy black-and-white CinemaScope cinematography and the odd situations of the various characters (a scene in which Shi-mok confronts Ae-Ja, who is disguised as his mother, is quite unnerving and very suspenseful). The interesting aspect of "A Bloodthirsty Killer" is the alternating genres present: the first 60 minutes are straight-out supernatural horror involving the Shi-mok character, while the remaining half of the film is a murder mystery told in flashback in order to put everything together. And, it should be noted that Yong-min final feature film "Black Ghost" (1976; South Korean title: "Heuggwi"), which is also currently lost, was apparently his own re-make of "A Bloodthirsty Killer", showing that Yong-min either wanted to tell the story again or saw room for improvement.
"A Bloodthirsty Killer" is an interesting look at the early horrors of Lee Yong-min. It's a shame his existing work isn't made available and one wishes there were some effort to get his films out there for all to see. Perhaps Martin Scorsese and his World Cinema Project could take a glance at Yong-min's work and give them the loving restorations they need.
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