There is, it seems, an impulse within recent South Korean filmmaking to revitalize moribund disreputable genres. First, The Host flips the monster movie on its head, and now Im Dae-Woong's To Sir with Love arrives stateside, complete with a new title (Bloody Reunion), to shame the way the direct-to-video revolution has gotten crassly lazy with slasher films. Do we, as proud Americans, need to tell South Korea to keep their paws off our genres? Or have we enough strength of character to accept their superior efforts and enjoy them?
Considering the entertainment value that would be sacrificed, the latter option seems the best course of action, since Bloody Reunion offers a nasty sort of pleasure long since abandoned by lowest-common-denominator films like Tamara or The Butcher (to name two of 2006's least impressive American genre attempts). Until it loses its way in its final minutes, it's an unapologetically brutal and camp-free example of hyperbolic slash-happy sickness.
The story, as ever, is the umpteenth variation on a theme. A group of young adults convene on a beach home occupied by their ailing former elementary-school teacher Ms. Park (Oh Mi-hee) for a nostalgic celebration of their past glories before Ms. Park passes. As it turns out though, Ms. Park wasn't the nicest or most tactful of educators; consequently, all the attending parties have psychic (and in a couple cases, like former aspiring baseball player Dal-bong [Park Hyo-jun], genuine physical) scars as a result of her less-than-ideal tutelage. They've all shown up with big metaphorical axes to grind, so it's inevitable that someone would push that into the realm of the literal.
It's a good forty-five minutes before the sharp objects come out, though, and it's to Im's credit that Bloody Reunion holds our attention even before the grue commences. The former students are all pretty messed-up, and though their grievances seem relatively petty, they are genuine; their actions and words may not deem them likeable, but they all at least stay within the realm of the sympathetic. The cast is rough around the edges but generally convincing at putting this across. Especially interesting is Sun-hee (Lee Ji-hyun), the requisite ugly-duckling-to-swan; what is generally a bitchy diva type in domestic product is given a more measured portrayal here, helped along immensely by Lee's eerily calm self-possession and omnipresent black sunglasses.
Furthermore, Im's careful meting-out of the nature of Ms. Park's cruelties keeps the film engaging while the buildup to violence takes place. Themes of personal responsibility run through the first half of the film, with Ms. Park's failings as a responsible educator tantamount among these; there's also some hints of class resentment in that the majority of the gathered complain about their shoddy treatment at the hands of Ms. Park stemming from their lower financial status. But all this, honestly, is window dressing, briefly touched upon then buried; when the dam finally bursts, Bloody Reunion reveals its foremost concern to be merely how savage it can become.
And savage it is – the violent scenes cooked up by Im and writer Park Se-yeol are grisly and vicious enough to make even the most sanguine old-school slasher pale in comparison. The killer's modus operandi favors school-related implements of destruction, and while that might sound gimmicky (images of Cutting Class come to mind), the mean-eyed gusto with which the murder setpieces are staged obviates any sort of eye-rolling. A ferocious amount of blood is shed during the second half of Im's film, enough to satiate even the most jaded gorehound, with the highlight being a wild bit where a woman's eyelids are stapled open. If nothing else, Im knows what will goose his audience will keep them entertained.
With all that goes relatively right, it's a shame then to report that the ending blows the film to hell. There's a twist in the tail of Park Se-yeol's script, and it's the kind of thing that would work well as a shock shot finale followed by a cut to the credits (much like it did in the well-known '90s film which seems to have heavily inspired the twist here); unfortunately, the film keeps going for fifteen interminable minutes after the revelation. This then leads into one of those baffling closing shots (see also: Masayuki Ochiai's Infection) that probably seems more profound in theory than in action. Much like High Tension, another mostly-exemplary neo-slasher that detonated itself with a silly attempt at getting too clever, Bloody Reunion is not a good movie overall. It is, however, a pretty satisfying slasher movie. And that's all that it needed to be.