Friday, November 11, 2011

Yoga Hakwon (2009)

Beauty at a cost

This takes over the spot for the strangest movie I've seen involving yoga. The last contender of "Kung Fu vs Yoga" included dislocating limbs and thought-to-be-impossible moves against traditional martial arts. "Yoga Hakwon," on the other hand, is a supernatural horror-mystery from South Korea that involves a group of women who want to achieve even more beauty than they already have. They're so blinded by vanity that the light at the end of the tunnel they perceive is really as dark as they come.

A woman named Kim Hyo-jung is caught up in the superficial world around her, whether it be selling lingerie on the home shopping network in Korea or dining out with acquaintances who are moving up in the world whichever way they can. There's a side of her that wants to be genuine, though currently the pressure of her friends' influences causes her to reevaluate her life. She throws a tantrum at her nice and laid back boyfriend and then gets fired from her job due to the other female co-host being more attractive than anything else. She confronts a woman named Sun-hwa who said it was out of her hands but then recommends a yoga studio owned by a secretive woman named Kahn Mi-hi--who was a former actress known for her beauty but carried a terrible voice--that might be able to help Hyo-jung with an intensive training class. So far so good...

Their instructor Na-ni tells them about a strict set of rules involving outside contact, mirrors, unauthorized food, showers and the usual confidentiality agreement. They put full trust into this unheard of studio without even a sign out front, only to act selfish towards one another to win a process involving seven chakras and a Kundalini that leads to perfectly balanced beauty that only one of the select ladies can achieve. "They say that she opened up her Kundalini..." was a line intended to be mysterious but not translated with the best sounding interests. By the first lesson it's evident they're in some kind of dark cult with supernatural powers over their new followers that cause them to perform complex yoga moves in a trance and fall victim every time they break the rules that were thought to be just for show. South Korea becomes even smaller when Hyo-jung's boyfriend gets linked up when visiting a director named Kang who casted Kahn Mi-hi, the owner of the Yoga studio, in his movies. He's not sure where his girlfriend went and proceeds to investigate, leading him to a story involving a tragic incident that happened on a movie called "Shadow of Youth" where rivals Eun-shil and Kahn Mi-hi played opposite.

The major strength of "Yoga Hakwon," or "Yoga" in the US, is its mood and some built up scares that are more abstract than logical. The yoga angle starts to show its limitations where a share of the film takes place outside of the studio setting, only to kick it up and save a share for its highly atmospheric closer that effectively plays on surface sensations no doubt but also needs footnotes to make sense of. Before that point other threads are introduced to compensate or to divert your attention. This jumps back and forth with a variety of story arcs but ends up moving around so much as to lose context. Some of the transitions seem somewhat awkward, at times overemphasizing areas and in other portions underemphasizing; like they're dressing up a simple scene to be more than it actually is but throwing the audience off as to which is which. Should you look into it more or less?

The movie is incredibly enigmatic about its references and situations to the point of confusion. Some of the exposition is a little backwards in that it will go through a certain scene with a vague amount of information, then after the fact drop a line that explains what was going on. Despite, this is drenched in atmosphere with darkly lit sets that have a cold and ghostly look with certain camera angles getting full use out of them. In some instances there are no reference points to brace yourself on to the point of feeling like a general haunted house where anything can go. It's a film that isn't entirely sound but delivers some memorable scenes and an uncomfortable feeling nonetheless like any decent horror film should. The performances carry some charms, with some possessing more of a captivating look to others adding a little quirkiness.

The effects are pretty effective looking with anything from slashes materializing on a neck to producing festering boils. There are also situations that blend CGI for more complex situations such as swiveling bodies that would make an owl jealous. The premise still gives room to think with how you're viewed in other people's eyes: how some try and live up to other's expectations, while the more comfortable of us act ourselves. Yep, being content munching potato chips on the couch never stopped anyone, yet others have to do something about it to the point of obsession and ruining the beauty they once held onto.

Rating: 6/10

Director: Jae-yeon Yun (Whispering Corridors 3: Wishing Stairs)
Link: IMDB

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