Korean Reviews Reviews

Film Review: Tastes of Horror (2024) by Ahn Sang-hoon, Yoon Een-Kyoung, Kim Yong-gyun, Lim Dae-woong, Chae Yeo-jun

Tastes of Horror is a generally impressive and enjoyable South Korean horror anthology

The anthology series is one of the most accomplished means through which an upcoming director gets their foot in the genre, offering a formulaic approach to storytelling that can be bent at will to allow for an individual's sense of style to come to the forefront. This was the case in 2021 when a slew of Korean directors got together to film segments for the series “Te-i-seu-cheu o-beu ho-reo” which provides the basis for six shorts to be edited together into the feature-length anthology “ brought the celebrated anthology to digital outlets in the US on June 25.

Starting with 's “Ding Dong Challenge,” students Bo-Ra (Jang Yee-un), Young-bi (Jang Seung-yeon), and Hae-yul () notice a particular viral video challenge to help them accomplish their goals of winning a K-Pop competition. When they discover that there's a dark side to taking on the challenge, they must figure out a way to stop it before it consumes them. There's quite a lot to like with this segment. The central setup here, involving Bo-Ra finding the cryptic video and the urban legend that spawns from watching it, is a fantastic premise that works with the usual assortment of storylines in the genre. Working with the idea of unwittingly enacting a curse after the video plays where the group learns the true origins of the original uploader, it comes together quite well. It even offers up some chilling imagery with the freakiness of the original video with the dance being performed in a creepy location. The ending resolution is a bit rushed and doesn't have the impact it could've but there's still a lot to like here.

Followed by 's “Four-Legged Beast,” student Hye-jung () becomes desperate to find whatever means she can so that she can accomplish her dream of attending med school to escape her horrible home life. Finding a possible means of doing so with a ghostly encounter, she soon comes to find the deadly aftereffects of the situation. This was a pretty intriguing if somewhat underwhelming segment. The wholesale approach of Hye-jung's home life gives a strong setup to understand the importance of her wanting the grades to continue schooling to get away from that lifestyle but not having the grades to do so is a fine step to get started. The gruesome antics that come about once this has happened, offer up the kind of startlingly obvious if no less gruesome outcome that this setup seems geared towards which is the main problem. That it can only end one way due to how it's brought up involving how the ghostly spirit can help Hye-jung so there's little suspense in what's going on but is otherwise still rather fun.

Next up is Johnny Chae's “Jackpot,” where Jin-ho (Kim Tae-hoon) is forced to stay at a rundown motel and remain under the radar of Jang (), the sleazy owner who wants the amount of money he won at a local casino. When he realizes that there might be a more sinister force at work within the motel, he's forced to find a way out of the situation alive. There wasn't a lot to this segment. The central setup involving the nature of human greed in how the struggle for the money drives both Jin-ho and Jang into desperate measures throughout is all quite well-handled. Since it leads to some thrilling moments involving a fight in the motel to acquire the money and the hallucinations involving the different figures stuck in the motel who are previous victims of Jang's criminal group operating it, this all works quite well. There's just no explanation for anything as it's just dropped on us with no context or build-up so it never has the thrills it should've, bringing it down somewhat.

After this is 's “Resident-Only Fitness Center,” as Hyeon-goo () moves into a new apartment complex since one of the key selling points is an exclusive gym which has a slew of special terms and conditions. The more he stays there, the more he comes to believe that ghosts live in the center and are targeting the residents who use it and break the rules. Overall, there's a lot to like here. The setup of the gym being the hotspot for all the activity to take place makes for a unique location, helped even more by the impressive lighting that takes place in the location. Accompanied by an eerie red light in the blackness surrounding it, the scenes of the ghostly attacks using the fitness machines are generally impressive enough, making great use of these features to produce some solid sequences. There's some attempted comedy in how the owners know what's going on but aren't willing to let anyone know why there's a ghost haunting the facility which doesn't work, and it seems to end more as a result of time-limit constraints than a natural storyline build-up, but these aren't too damaging.

Then comes Lim Dae-wung's “Rehabilitation,” where injured rescue worker Ji-yeon (Lee Ju-young) awakes from the situation trapped in a secret and mysterious room where she's unable to get free. While plagued by strange dreams and unsympathetic hosts, she tries to come to grips with what's going on in the facility. This segment really could've been something but it suffers the most from its time constraints undoing it the most. Faced with an elaborate, convoluted scenario involving Ji-yeon learning that she's been injured in an accident and suffering potential brain damage which sent her to this location where she must be rehabilitated under a time limit, this setup is incredibly rushed in a short format such as this. It could've used much more time to get its storyline set up and most of its questions answered, as there's quite a bit that requires time to set them up properly and answer them. Instead, things just happen without much rhyme or reason. The visuals are impressive and the concept itself will work quite nicely, but this segment really could've used a longer treatment to work properly.

Finally, Johnny Chae's second effort ends the film with “Gluttony,” where mukbang streamer Yura () is embarrassed after participating in a challenge with fellow mukbang streamer Nyom Nyom (Choi Soo-im) and decides to go on another stream with her to help clear her name following the scandal. When the incident proves even more scandalous, a second chance stream between the two proves to be even more deadly than they imagined. This segment is more weird than anything but still comes off enjoyable enough. The main idea of a rivalry in the mukbang community and the type of competitive nature that emerges between Nyom Nyom and Yura makes for an intriguing start. It is given a genuinely immersive build-up watching the competitive streams going on detailing the history that paints each one as unsympathetic at different occasions. The actual competitive bout between Nyom Nyom and Yura is fun to watch and turns into an intriguing concept, but the problem is that there's no stake in the outcome. Competitive eating with no stakes doesn't inspire any chills at all which makes everything feel somewhat bland and lackluster with no purpose beyond watching the two of them settle an argument.

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An enjoyable anthology with a lot of fun segments and not too many that miss, “Tastes of Horror” is an effective effort that works well to highlight the upcoming talent in the Korean genre scene. Viewers who are intrigued by the concept, enjoy Korean or even Asian genre cinema, or are fans of anthologies overall will have a lot to like.

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