The Ring Virus


Rating 3½

Written and directed by Dom-bin Kim, based on the book by Koji Suzuki

Starring Eun-kyung Shin and Jin-yeong Jeong

‘The Ring Virus’ is a South Korean film written and directed by Dom-bin Kim and based on the book ‘Ringu’ written by the Japanese novelist Koji Suzuki. It was released a year after the Hideo Nakata film, with which it shares several similarities, but it is said to follow the story told in the book more closely. It has been claimed that the Korean film was actually shot before the Japanese version, but this is questioned by Nakata, who points out that both films include identical alterations to the narrative contained in the book, including the ghost figure climbing out of the television.

It could be argued that having watched the original Japanese film and the American remake, plus sequels to both of those films, there was no great imperative to watch the Korean version. I only found out about its existence recently and I was just intrigued.

“There are just too many bones to pick with The Ring Virus. Most of it cuts from scene to scene without showing the how and why behind characters’ actions, giving it the feel of a Cliffs Notes version. The cinematography also removes much of the tension, replacing the dark and shadow of the Japanese original with brightness and color. Equally frustrating is Kim Dong-bin’s decision to change the sex of any thinking person’s role from male to female, and to make all male characters either villains, cowards or morons.”
Javier Lopez:

Javier Lopez makes some good points, although I haven’t actually arrived at the same conclusions about the film as him. I like the brightness and colour, which works as an interesting contrast to the Japanese version. This use of light and colour should not lead one to assume the film looks like a rom-com. There are a lot of interesting camera angles used and modulations in focus – and, in keeping with the Japanese and American films, it is often raining and wintery –- creating an altogether unwelcoming environment.

Regarding the portrayal of the male characters, some might argue that “villains, cowards and morons” is an apt description of many men. To be slightly more serious, I did wonder about the characterisation during the early part of the film.

There are only two male characters that actually need concern us. The story goes something like this. Sun-Joo, played Eun-kyung Shin, begins to investigate the mysterious death of her young cousin and discovers that it was just one of four unexplained deaths. She seeks help from a senior journalist at the newspaper office where she works. He is somewhat self-important and borderline sexist, but later on when she desperately needs his help he does help her. He also tells her about a disgraced surgeon and forensic anthropologist who had proposed a discredited theory that the deaths had a supernatural cause. Sun-Joo goes to see the surgeon, Choi Yeol, played by Jin-yeong Jeong, who is very condescending towards her and sexist. He speaks in riddles, belittling her, and initially offers little help.

The behaviour of these two male characters is very noticeable and I did wonder if it is significant, for example a comment by the director about male attitudes towards women in Korea. I also wondered if, perhaps, this was simply typical behaviour of men in South Korea, although the film clearly set up Sun-Joo as the pro-active “hero” figure.

Ultimately, Sun-Joo and Choi Yeol become slightly unwilling partners in the race against time to find an answer to the riddle of the videotape. In the process Choi Yeol learns to have more respect for her and develops some feelings for her, although he remains as arrogant as ever.

It is, as I’ve already mentioned, very noticeable, but I didn’t mark it down as a point against the film – some kind of veiled anti-male agenda. I was just interested to know what it was all about and if there was a message contained in the characterisation that might have a bearing on the story itself.

I don’t think there is any over-riding message, although we do learn that Euh-Suh (the ghost character known as Sadako Yamamura in the novel and Japanese film) was raped before being thrown down into the well. We also learn that she is hermaphrodite and has testicular feminisation syndrome, something that is present in the book, but not in the Japanese film.

At the beginning of ‘The Ring Virus’ Sun-Joo is seen interviewing an artist who is about to put on an exhibition in an art gallery. She says her art represents the ancient ideal of the beauty of women and the strength of men combined as one individual. This provides the first clue in the journey.

The videotape is quite different to the one used in ‘Ringu’ and then (more or less) copied in ‘The Ring’. Choi Yeol studies it at length and concludes that the images on the tape have been recorded there by some form of telekinesis. He also concludes it was done so by a woman, because the images are broken up by instants of blackness. He says what the tape shows is the images in the mind of a women seen through her eyes. His reason for determining that it is a woman, he says, is that a man blinks twenty times a minute and a woman blinks fifteen times.

In the end, the film tells us the same thing as ‘Ringu’ –- and the likes of ‘Ju-on: The Grudge’ and ‘Dark Water’. The need for vengeance is not rational and can never be satisfied. It goes on forever. This is closely linked to Japanese folklore about Onryō, female spirits that return to the physical world in search of vengeance – usually against male oppressors.

“The acting in this film is horrendous (perhaps the only horrific thing about it!), almost completely devoid of any emotion, even when characters die off – in the scene where Sun-Joo is talking to her aunt about the death of her cousin Sang-Mi on the phone, she simply says “Cousin Sang-mi is in a better place now,” in the most wooden way imaginable. And lack of chemistry between Sun-Joo and Choi - in fact, they seem to actively dislike and work against each other – doesn’t help. Jin-young Jeong plays the mad doctor in a thoroughly obnoxious way, which also detracts from the emotionality of the final scenes.”
Mandi Apple: Snowblood Apple – Asian Extreme Cinema

Some of the acting of Jin-yeong Jeong (or Jim-young Jeong, as his name is spelt in the review) seems to verge on Tod Slaughter style hamminess, but I like the performance of Eun-kyung Shin and generally speaking the acting seems okay to me. I would say it’s on a par with, say, ‘Kairo’, the Japanese horror film remade in America as ‘Pulse’.

I enjoyed the film immensely. Even though I already knew the story well from the Japanese and American films, I still found myself becoming involved in the journey.


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