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The Ring Virus   C-

Tai Seng Entertainment

Year Released: 1999 (USA: 2004)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Kim Dong-bin
Writer: Kim Dong-bin (based on a novel by Kôji Suzuki)
Cast: Shin Eun-gyeong, Jeong Jin-yeong, Bae Du-na.

Review by Jim Harper

Almost three years before Hollywood released their remake of Hideo Nakata's smash hit Ringu, this South Korean version appeared and became one of the biggest box-office hits of the year. The four-decade ban on Japanese films receiving a general release in South Korea began to be lifted in October 1998, but in the first two years afterwards only six Japanese films were released. This Korean-Japanese co-production (one of the first between the two nations) provided Korean audiences with a readily available version of the biggest success story to come out of the Asian horror scene in half a century.

The story will be familiar to most people by now. While investigating the suspicious death of her niece, journalist Sun-ju (Shin Eun-gyeong) discovers that four friends died at exactly the same time, one week after watching an unmarked videotape. Having watched the tape herself, she enlists the aid an eccentric pathologist (Jeong Jin-yeong) in an effort to find the origins of the mysterious recording before her seven days are up. The matter becomes even more urgent when Sun-ju's six-year-old daughter inadvertently watches the tape.

When preparing their script, Hideo Nakata and Hiroshi Takahashi mixed elements of Kôji Suzuki's novel with their own creations to create a more cinematic version of the story. Although he draws much from the Japanese film, writer-director Kim Dong-bin has also returned to Suzuki's work, creating a movie that is arguably closer to the original novel. By reinstating some of the author's ideas, Kim seems to be trying to sidestep allegations that his film is just another financially motivated remake (a reasonable enough ambition), but unfortunately this makes little difference because it quickly becomes apparent that the most eye-catching episodes have indeed been lifted note for note from the earlier film. Second time around -- and with a less technically accomplished crew -- the scares are nowhere near as effective. Furthermore, the lean, mysterious feel of the original is compromised by the inclusion of background material that Nakata and Takahashi removed.

Taken aside from its Japanese predecessor, The Ring Virus is still not particularly successful. The clumsy script turns almost everyone into a two-dimensional caricature (with very little screen time), and it's quite disheartening to watch the capable leads struggling to make something of their unattractive characters. Like many Korean films, the technical side of the movie looks decent, with one notable exception: the special effects. Certain crucial scenes are hampered by digital effects that would probably have looked fine 10 years before, but seem horribly cheap and outdated by 1999. This weakens the film's impact terribly, especially when compared with the simple but effective work used in Nakata's Ringu or Rick Baker's grotesque contributions to The Ring (2002).

Even with its cumbersome script and unlikable characters, The Ring Virus isn't the worst Suzuki adaptation around. That honor would probably go to Chisui Takigawa's made-for-TV special Ring: Kanzenban (1995) or Jôji Iida's turgid Rasen (1998). It's hard to consider the film as a success however. Few fans will appreciate it as much as the Japanese or American versions, which are all of a consistently higher standard. The following year, Ringu 2 (1999) was given a theatrical release in Korea, one of 25 Japanese films to do so. Perhaps because of the success of The Ring Virus, Nakata's sequel did reasonably well at the box office.

Review published 01.26.2006.

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