8TH NIGHT, THE (JE8ILEUI BAM)
(director/writer:Kim Tae-hyung; cinematographer: Choo Kyeong-yeob; editor: Sun-min Kim; music: Shim Hyun-jung; cast: Lee Sung-min (The Guardian, Seon-hwa, Park Jin-soo),Park Hae-joon (Kim Ho-tae), Kim Yoo-jeong (Ae-ran), Dong-yeong Kim (Dong-jin), Rich Ting (voice of Detective Ho-Tae Kim), Nam Da-Reum (Cheong-seok), Choi Jin-ho (Professor Kim Joon-cheol); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producer; Hyun Kwang Seo: Netflix; 2021- S. Korea-in Korean with English subtitles)
“A confusing story about demonic possession that never fully possessed me.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The feature film debut for Korean director Kim Tae-hyung is this murky and hard to follow horror movie with startling visuals and revelations. It’s a horror film that’s a mix of drama and mystery, plus an added supernatural twist. Some kinds of Buddhist shamanism is also used in its backstory.
It begins with a voiceover, drawings and animation to explain the fictional Legend of the Diamond Sutra mythology of the narrative, which tells us 2,500 years ago a monster opened the door that bridges the gap between the human realm and hell, “in order to make humans suffer.” Buddha defeated the monster by pulling out both of its eyes. One eye is black, and the other eye is red. The Buddha then placed them in two sealed surira caskets, placing one on the east coast and the other on the west coast, so they no longer will bring evil onto the world.
When in modern times, in 2005, at the India-Pakistan border, an anthropology professor from Seoul, Kim Joon-Cheol (Choi Jin-ho), found one surira casket in the desert and believed it was his break-through discovery in the field; that is, until he was called out as a fraud after lab tests said this was not the Buddha’s casket. As a result his name was smeared in the media and in academia, and he lost his position but kept the casket. The Professor then became obsessed with restoring his good name, at any cost. To prove that the casket was real, he opened it (like saying to himself the hell with the world, it’s more important that I get back my good name). Then he created a meditation class among seven former failed suicides, weaklings, and collected their blood samples to attract the demon. Thereby he created the 7 steps needed for the Red Eye he has released from his casket to now gain access to the world by inhabiting their bodies after they are possessed and seeing if he can retrieve the Black Eye. On the fatal 8th night, the eighth person in the story is someone Red Eye is forecast to inhabit or else his re-entry to the world will fall short. She is a young female shaman who is a virgin, Ae-ran (Kim Yoo-jeong), and might not even be aware the demon is after her. If the Red Eye succeeds in possessing all eight of these people, then by the eighth night, the Red Eye will be reunited with the Black Eye, and the ancient monster’s full power will be restored.
The middle-aged Guardian (Lee Sung-min) is a shaman who once was an exorcist trained to kill demons, who hunts down the freed demon with prayer beads in one hand and an ax in the other. He hopes to kill it so it won’t destroy the world. And he does it with the help of a 20-something Buddhist monk, Chung-seok (Nam Da-reum), also a Korean, who has broken his vow of silence in the company of the grumpy older monk.
Meanwhile, the lead homicide detective of the investigation, the no-nonsense Kim Ho-tae (Park Hae-joon), doesn’t believe in the supernatural. But his nerdy young assistant Dong-jin (Kim Dong-young) believes that the supernatural exists and that explains the mysterious shriveled-up bodies all over Korea.
There are many subplots, more plot explanations, lectures about the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, action shots involving both the police and the monks, and a confusing story about demonic possession that never fully possessed me. But it had an action-packed final act lifting it out of its tedium even if it hardly made any sense, which made me give the film a pass despite its plodding execution throughout.
REVIEWED ON 7/16/2021 GRADE: B-