Is there any genre in modern horror cinema that is simultaneously more abundant and more depressingly rigid in its narrative constructs than the Asian ghost story? The spooky genre of Ringu-inspired films are to the beginning of the 21st century what the first-wave slasher flick was to the '80s — an omnipresent, easily copiable template with which any minimally ambitious automaton with a camera and a crew can provide character names and let the cliches fill in the rest.
Presumably, this means that a few years from now we'll start seeing entertainingly tongue-in-cheek deconstructions of the genre a la Scream or Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon; until that time, though, we're stuck with endless variations on a theme, of which Ahn Sang-hoon's Arang and Kim Tae-kyung's The Ghost are but two recent Korean examples to receive a U.S. video release from Asian-film specialists Tartan Video.
Arang at least shows some initial promise. After an opening sequence featuring the typical expendable uniformed schoolgirl (who gets to deliver the priceless line, "It'd be better to see a ghost than a pervert"), the plot kicks in. It's the typical story of a group of people, linked by an incident in their past, dying mysterious deaths at the hands of a ghost with broken fingernails and long black hair.
What sets Ahn's film apart initially is that it's framed as a police procedural — rather than the research into the history and motivation of the vengeful spirit being done by one of its prospective victims, it's being done by two detectives. So-young (Song Yoon-ah) and her new partner Hyung-gi (Lee Dong-wook) are initially called to the scene of a death thinking it to be just another murder case; when investigations into a couple of other subsequent deaths reveal a cryptic e-mail delivered to the victims moments before their deaths, the two realize that, to solve this case, they must also tackle a case from many years prior.