Saturday, February 03, 2007

Freeze (TV Series) – Review


Director: Jung Jaehoon

Release Date: 2006

Contains spoilers

The advent of subscription cable TV in South Korea has opened up the market for production companies allowing them to produce higher quality drama without the pressure of having to find Network support.

Freeze is a 5 part drama, weighing in at around 5 hours and concerns itself with vampire Joongwon (Lee Seo Jin). The story is actually quite simple. Joongwon has been a vampire for 350 years and hates his existence. Yihwa forces Joongwon to feedHe runs a French Wine Bar with fellow vampire Yihwa who seems much more at ease with her existence. Each time he feeds (on blood from black market blood packs rather than victims) he sheds a solitary tear.

He receives a letter from a woman from his past, a young girl whom he left and told to marry another, as she is dying. The woman has been in hospital for three years, looked after only by her daughter, Jiwoo, and by the time he receives the letter she is dead. He reaches the funeral and, telling Jiwoo that he is a distant relative, he gives her a funeral gift and returns to Seoul. Also at the funeral home is Jiwoo’s father, who has been absent for the duration of the mother’s illness and had been an abusive drunk when with the family.

Yihwa feels the hungerDuring this we hear of murders in which the victims have teeth marks on the neck and their bodies are drained of blood. This is an ideal place to mention one of the problems with the DVDs. Though they are subtitled, those subtitles are very literal and can sometimes be a little difficult to follow because of this (spelling errors don’t help). When the news reports the murders it mentions, for example, “vampires and draculas” as though a “dracula” is a separate type of undead. Despite this it is clear that a third vampire is on the prowl.

Son Tae Young as JiwooJiwoo quits school and moves to Seoul, however life in Seoul is not what it might be - she struggles to find work, though she eventually cons her way into being an apprentice at a tattooists. She found a wedding picture of her mother and father and has noticed a man lurking in the corner. It is, of course, Joongwon but she assumes it is his father and decides that Joongwon’s father and her mother must have had an affair. With the aid of a box of matches from the wine bar she tracks Joongwon down and, as the series progresses, insinuates herself into his life.

What we discover, really towards the end of the series, is that Joongwon left Jiwoo’s mother as he couldn’t trust himself around her when the thirst for blood was upon him. Yihwa to be burnt at the stakeShe reminded him very much of his own sister, whom he killed 350 years before and whose death still haunts his dreams. We also discover that it was Yihwa who turned him. She had visited his village (the dramatically named village at the end of the world) and strange phenomena started to happen, thus the village elders decided that she was to be burnt at the stake, but Joongwon rescued her. During the rescue he fell down a cliff and was dying so she gave him her blood. Joongwon wishes, above all else, to die and will not let another person get close, unfortunately he has no idea how he might die and it does seem tricky.

Joongwon feels the agony of hungerMost of the standard vampire lore is removed. We see no fangs, they have reflections, holy places have no effect and they can walk in sunlight. It is really only the need for blood, massive strength (only seen towards the end), the coldness of flesh and the longevity of ‘living’ that remains. When the thirst is ondream of sister's death them subtle veins appear across their skin, which pales significantly, and the thirst is agony. I must admit I do like to see a good feed, drinking blood from glasses doesn’t do it, but we only really get one when Yihwa allows Joongwon to feed from her wrist (misinterpreted by Jiwoo as something more romantic), we also see the resultant bite marks on Joongwon’s sister’s neck when he dreams of her death.

Hyunjoon seems to be a comedy elementThe hunt for the murderer, a 30 year turned vampire named Hyunjoon whom Yihwa finds and hides, has caused the supply in illegal blood trafficking to dry up – causing the vampires problems as they find it increasingly difficult to get blood packs. However, for the emotionally distant Joongwon the presence of Jiwoo is causing the emotions he has frozen to melt and he is falling in love with the girl – this is not at all appreciated by Yihwa. With Jiwoo living in his apartment there is also the problem of keeping her from discovering his true nature.

The production values are excellent but the series has one major flaw, the length. The story is simple and much of the time is taken with looking into the everyday lives of the main characters. Bizarrely this is done in an almost minimalist way and works well in the way it builds excellent character development. blood at mouthOne assumes that this is because Jung Jaehoon was a video director and therefore already adept at telling stories through visuals. The series did keep me watching, though how much of that was waiting for the next drip of vampire lore they released I couldn’t say. All in all, however, the entire thing could have done with being shorter. As it happens the DVD set does have the series cut into a two hour film. I must admit that, having just watched the series, I have not watched this yet, so I will make a review revision at a later date based on my viewing of the film. Having mentioned the DVD set, I must say that the packaging is lovely, a very nice digipack affair.

Despite subtitling issues the actual acting was excellent although it did suffer in some respects, from a Western viewer’s point of view, by adding in some of the idiosyncrasies that oriental productions can tend towards. If we take Jiwoo for a moment, there was nothing wrong with the actress' acting abilities but, in respects of the character, the scripting called for perhaps adolescent and zany moments that didn’t overly fit with the character as we saw her at other times. The vampire Hyunjoon’s character was, perhaps, a little too comedy at times, especially given the murder storyline and a Park Han Byul as Yihwasub-story of the pain he felt watching over his sister who was suffering with senile dementia. I cannot hold the idiosyncrasies against the production, however, as one should expect such aspects to Asian TV/cinema. Whilst I am mentioning the actors I should also mention that the actress who played Yihwa is very beautiful, as well as being a good actress.

I must point out that, whilst this is a vampire story (though the vampirism is treated, in some respects, in a matter of fact way), it is most definitely not horror. It is a love story and a drama.

The overlong aspect will put many off as will the fact that a vampire series is not a horror series and I think that 6 out of 10 is probably fair. I will add a secondary review score once I have watched the movie cut of the series, which I am hoping will prove to be a better length.

The series does not have an imdb page as of the time of review.


Anonymous said...

park han byul is jiwoo, not iwha

Taliesin_ttlg said...

anonymous, thanks... it was always going to be a danger as I tried to establish the actor to character names without an imdb page and no knowledge of Korean language.

I pulled the names as best I could via the DVD extras but, in light of the apparent mistake, I have anonymised the female actors within the article.