Now available on DVD
Directed by Shin-yeon Won
It’s been ten years now since the horror community was galvanized by the prodigious scare factor of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998) and the world was introduced to the new millennium look for Asian specters in the form of the supremely eerie Sadako. Sadako’s once-startling look has been revisited to diminished effect in far too many Far East fright films since, however (in addition to their US remakes), and the iconic image of the long-haired Asian ghost girl is so over-familiar by this point, they might as well use it to sell breakfast cereal (Sadak-O’s?). So at first glance, the South Korean film The Wig appears to be a case of one long-haired apparition too many. And then there’s the matter of this being a horror movie about a killer wig â€“ or a haunted wig, if you prefer. As unlikely horror movie material goes, a haunted wig might rank slightly ahead of the idea of, say, a possessed laundry press (as in The Mangler) or some of the cursed items that were given evil abilities on the fondly remembered Friday the 13th: The Series (such as a dog collar or boxing gloves) but stillâ€¦we’re talking about hair here. Scary hair, maybe, but hair nonetheless.
But in watching director Won Shen-Yeon’s film (his first feature), I found myself feeling that The Wig rated as a decent film, if only by a hair’s breadth. I’ll admit, when the film opened on the sight of a man driving down a deserted road at night only to spin out after being startled by a wig (!) that flew out of the night towards his windshield (!!), I felt that my worst fears were confirmed. The best I was hoping for at this point was something so absurd that I’d enjoy watching it on a camp level. And honestly, what else would I possibly be hoping for from a horror film called The Wig? As a kid, I thought that the lamest, most hard-to-buy horror movie monster was the Disembodied Hand as seen in films like The Beast With Five Fingers (1946) and The Hand (1981) but an evil wig makes a crawling hand look like the Second Coming of Frankenstein’s Monster.
From fairly early on in The Wig, though, Won establishes a somber mood that makes it easy to buy into the film’s dramatic stakes and overlook the storyline’s inherent silliness. Some viewers may think that an opportunity for outrageousness was missed here but I appreciated the effort to play it straight. As written by Do Hyun-Jung, The Wig may not raise the bar for J-Horror but despite initial appearances, this is not the umpteenth clone of Ringu or Ju-On that some may expect. Maybe because it’s more a tale of possession from beyond the grave rather than it is a straight-ahead haunting. Or maybe because it goes for a much grimmer finale than most viewers will be ready for. Whatever the case, The Wig may be sporting a look that’s at least six years past its pop culture due date but it wears it well (and to be fair, even though this is just making to Region 1 DVD now this was originally made in 2005).
In The Wig, Chae Min-seo stars as Su-hyon, a young woman stricken with leukemia. Her concerned older sister Ji-hyon (played by Yu Sun) attempts to raise Su-hyon’s spirits by buying her a wig upon her discharge from the hospital. In typical horror movie fashion, at first the wig seems to be a boon to Su-hyon. More than just giving her back the self-confidence that she had lost, Su-hyon seems to be regaining her health as well. But even as Ji-Hyon should be ecstatic to see her sister recovering, she notices that some sinister side effects seem attached to Su-hyon’s newfound health. More than just becoming confident again, Su-hyon has developed a promiscuous nature that she’s never displayed before. She also experiences strange visions and she has stopped taking her medication. She also seems to be unable to function without her wig, even wearing it to bed. And bad luck starts to visit itself on the people around Su-hyon. Ji-hyon, for one, experiences a horrific car accident that leaves her unable to speak. Eventually, Ji-hyon realizes that the wig is damaged goods and in order for Su-hyon to be free, it has to go. That’s easier said than done, however, as the wig has taken a shine to its new home and won’t be discarded like a cheap toupee.
The pacing of the first half of The Wig represents the film’s clunkiest storytelling and without much attention to vivid characterization (Su-hyon goes from generic suffering victim to generic bad girl and once Ji-hyon loses the ability to speak, it becomes hard for her to convey much personality â€“ although robbing one of the main protagonists of their voice midway through the film is an unconventional move that earns some points with me), The Wig quickly threatens to become ponderous. But as it moves into the second half, there’s more interest to be found as the storyline begins to gel together.
Unfortunately, Do Hyun-Jung’s script takes an easy out of any heavy narrative lifting when, instead of delving into real detective work on the background of the wig, Ji-hyon is allowed to experience the Cliff Notes psychic vision version of the wig’s origin that conveniently answers any questions. But I was able to forgive all this thanks to the final twenty minutes, which unveils additional character revelations and closes hard with an unexpectedly bitter finale. Don’t expect a thunderous twist a la The Sixth Sense but there is a surprise or two in store that I didn’t see coming. And sometimes it’s just that slight deviation from expectations that can leave a favorable impression. Had the film’s characterizations been stronger, The Wig‘s ending would’ve carried much more impact but as is, it’s still strong stuff. Although the principal characters of The Wig weren’t developed as thoroughly as they could’ve been, I still responded to their unrelieved melancholy. They’re the kind of lost souls that have largely become out of fashion in modern cinema. And for me, that overrode the film’s standard issue shocks and the deficiencies of the plotline just enough to give it a recommendation.
The Wig may not be much of a hair-raiser but for those fans who have combed over the rest of what modern Asian cinema has to offer, this is a respectable outing from the East.