A woman studying folk tales of a vengeful ghost begins to suspect she and the spirit have something in common in this thriller. Yun-hee (Jo An) is a Korean writer who has been wrestling with a serious case of writer’s block when she hears from a longtime friend, Seo-yeon (Cha Ye-ryeon). Seo-yeon has been living in Vietnam for several years and has become fascinated with a local legend concerning the death of a beautiful woman named Muoi. Yun-hee travels to Vietnam to help Seo-yeon with her research, and learns that over a century ago Muoi (Ahn Thu) was a beautiful woman who posed for an esteemed artist eager to paint her portrait. Muoi and the painter became lovers, which led to her violent death. Many years later, a handful of monks protect the painting of Muoi and warn people about her ghost, which is said to haunt the village of Dalat.
Muoi: The Legend of the Portrait is a nicely shot and remarkably clever joint Korean/Vietnamese production that is very ambitious by modern horror standards. It is kind of funny when I learned that this film got no activity in Vietnam due to its country’s censorship officials. Though widely available on pirated DVDs, Muoi has yet to be given the nod for release by authorities, known for their reluctance to approve films with supernatural themes. Wisely, the director chooses to focus upon the relationship between Yoon Hee and Seo Yeon rather than on the tired supernatural puzzle, which leads to an interesting, surprisingly harrowing series of revelations.
Though narrative progress is fairly mechanical, the pic does not lack intriguing elements. Flashbacks to Muoi’s affair with a handsome painter, the involvement of monks as protectors of the curse – and a scary old woman who pops in and out of the proceedings – all help maintain interest where big shocks are not forthcoming. The film’s real strength is its high production values, and it certainly looks great, boasting some of the strongest visuals seen in a genre effort for some time.
The entire selling point of some of the more recent, supposedly against-the-grain horror films is not that they’re terrifying, well-written, intelligently directed or tell a good story…but that they’re a throwback to the ‘good old days’ of the 1980s. That kind of crap is the exact reason why every radio station is stuck playing songs your parents used to listen to 40 years ago. Do you really want that for horror movies? Well, for me it was a relief that Kim Tae Kyeong, has at least attempted to try something a little different. Music is subtly applied and contributes nicely to the menacing mood. All other tech credits are spot-on. Muoi is a good enough horror flick for me to recommend to my readers.