The Beast Stalker
Hong Kong, 2008, 110 minutes
Director: Dante Lam
If you've seen as many Hong Kong cop movies as I have, they do start to blur after a while. It's a genre that thrives for/despite not offering much variety, and Beast Stalker's kidnapping angle is no different.
The plot hinges on a ludicrously fateful traffic accident, and despite some mildly effective action here and there, it’s largely a failed attempt at a tearjerker by giving distinction to all the heroes, villains and victims through some overwrought emotional burden. The abundance of stylistic excess add nothing to the thrill, leaving it a forgettable cop thriller.
France, 2009, 78 minutes
Director: Catherine Breillat
Catherine Breillat's Bluebeard is the controversial director's most conventional and least provocative effort, but that doesn't mean it's her most accessible, either. The lo-fi look and unconvincing Renaissance setting—indistinguishable from the look of the framing device of two girls in the 1950's reading each other Perrault's version of "Bluebeard"—strip the film down to its basics, just the enactment Lord Bluebeard (a fittingly brutish Dominique Thomas) mulling over killing his latest virgin bride Marie-Catherine (Lola Creton). One of the two girls is named Catherine, the same as the director and the bride, which seem to hint at a meta-narrative about the cost of being fascinated by a menacing figure like Bluebeard.
Breillat presents a depiction of Bluebeard as not a monster, but a man drunk on male dominance, whose romance with Marie-Catherine seem acceptable and even romantic at first, until his horrific decision to strike. There's inklings of female empowerment and the power of sexuality over violence here, made more interesting by the two kids' increasingly relevant commentaries, but it's never compellingly conveyed nor dramatized, save for its laughably grandiose closing five minutes. For the most part, it's just an awkwardly paced story, though one mercifully brief.
Hansel and Gretel
South Korea, 2008, 116 minutes
Director: Yim Phil-sung
Combining the story of its namesake with the Bill Mumy Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life," Hansel and Gretel is an oddly fascinating tale that suffers from being very predictable. Though things don't really get into gears until it's near its end, the lousy dialogue and lack of frights are kept in check by the lush art design and colorful cinematography.
After a car crash, Eun-soo (Chun Jeong-Myoung) is trapped in a house in the woods with an eerily content family. Unable to escape or make contact with the outside world, he suddenly finds himself the sole guardian of the kids when their obviously terrified parents disappear. As he takes care of the mysterious tykes, he recalls his dying mother, whom he was never close to, and his pregnant girlfriend's unborn child, whom he was reluctant to accept. The film constantly uses these to go back to the theme of parental responsibilities and privileges, using it as the central conflict as well as the motives of good and evil.
It will no doubt be labeled as a horror film, as it uses similar visual points as your typical Asian horror staple: more creepy children, more hair-ravaged women. It is, however, better described as a dark fairy tale, given the moral center involving a man learning about parental love. More pretty than scary, it would appease fable-lovers more so than horror aficionados.