Sorum (2001)

Marco Lanzagorta

Sorum might be best described as a ghost story, but without ghosts.


Director: Yoon Jong-Chan
Cast: Kim Myung-Min and Jang Jin-Young
Distributor: Tartan
MPAA rating: Not Rated
Studio: Dreammax Corp.
First date: 2001
US DVD Release Date: 2005-07-26
Amazon affiliate

With the success of Whispering Corridors (Ki-Hyung Park, 1998) and its sequel Memento Mori (Tae-Yong Kim and Kyu-Dong Min, 1999), South Korean horror cinema has become a hot commodity all over the world. Not to be confused with other Asian horror, the SK version subscribes to distinctive plot and visual conventions. In particular, most of these narratives are structured as studies of fate and coincidence, showcasing Freudian subtexts.

Though Sorum (literal translation from Korean: Goose Bumps) closely follows these conventions, it also defies categorization. It might be best described as a ghost story, but without ghosts. Instead of using gore and special effects to horrify, Sorum relies on characterization, plot development, and grim images of destitution. Its resistance to genre might account for Sorum's uneven release history. Though it won the 2002 Best Director, Best Actress, and Special Jury Prize awards at Fantasporto (the prominent fantastic film festival held in Porto, Portugal), it never opened in European and U.S. theaters. And while we might be grateful for its existence, Tartan Video's DVD, quite unfortunately, has no meaningful bonus features, only a making-of documentary that consists of seemingly random behind-the-scenes clips.

Sorum's subtexts are based in Seoul's history of poverty and class segregation. After the devastating Kwangju massacre in May 1980, that left hundreds of demonstrators dead, General Chun Doo-Kwan seized control of the country. The resulting political oppression produced a socially conscious underground film movement that addressed the violence, economic decline, and administrative corruption that consumed the country for over seven years. This artistic counterculture continues to stimulate, inspire, and educate today's filmmakers.

Such influence is evident in Sorum's first scene, where young taxi driver Yong-Hyun (Kim Myung-Min), struggling to make ends meet, moves into a decrepit building in a rundown section of Seoul. Most of the walls are adorned with graffiti, the corridors strewn with trash, and the pervasive sound of dripping water hints at a plumbing nightmare. The ceiling of Yong-Hyun's apartment shows signs of smoke damage, a reminder of the building's terrible past.

This ominous locale stands in contrast to the nearby 7-11, brightly illuminated and spotless. While the old building symbolizes a declining traditional Korean culture, the 7-11 denotes the unstoppable Americanization of the region. The eerie apartment building appears almost to be a conscious entity. The lights in the corridors turn on and off, suggesting heavy breathing, while the windows form a strange pattern that resembles an enraged face. More disturbing, the inhabitants become "ghosts" as well, as Yong-Hyun and his neighbors are alienated and made nearly invisible by their menial jobs.

Their present is infected by the past, specifically, murder in Yong-Hyun's apartment. He is an unknowing catalyst for more horrors, when he befriends his neighbor Sun-Yeong (Jang Jin-Young), a battered wife who recently lost her son. When Sun-Yeong's jealous husband finds them talking to each other, he goes into a rage. She kills her husband and asks Yong-Hyun to help her dispose of the body, leading to a creepy romantic relationship. As Yong-Hyun and Sun-Yeong reenact the violent events of 30 years before, the film suggests that from the start, they were trapped in a complex web of fate and coincidence.

Structured as a ghost story, Sorum never displays phantoms or spirits, and all events might be attributed to everyday causes or human selfishness. Sorum does not try to simplify the deep socio-economical problems that trouble low income South Koreans, by blaming supernatural forces for their condition.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.