Into The Mirror

Into The Mirror (Geoul sokeuro) (2003)

Into The Mirror (Geoul Sokeuro) first published by Movie Gazette, 23 Oct, 2004

Woo Yung-min (Yoo Ji-tae) used to be a decorated sharpshooter for the Seoul police, but after a single error of judgement which led to the death of his partner in a mirrored nightclub, guilt and self-loathing have made him half the man he was, no longer able to look himself in the mirror. Quitting the force, he is given a job as head of security by his uncle Jung Il-sung (Gi Ju-bong), who is the executive chairman of a vast department store that is about to reopen three years after it was damaged in a fire.

Amidst rumours of a ghost that haunts the store’s mirrored halls at night, two members of staff are killed in mysterious circumstances, and Yung-min finds himself competing with his former police colleague Hu Hyun-su (Kim Myung-min) to solve a series of bizarre murders which all take place in front of mirrors. Are the deaths connected with the previous fire? Is Yung-min just seeing double every time he fleetingly spots a woman (Kim Hye-na) around the crime scenes? And why does so much of the evidence point to Yung-min himself?

Recently there has been a tendency for Asian horror films to transform everyday objects into uncanny forms of terror – be they televisions (RingJu-On: the Grudge), telephones (RingPhone), elevators (The EyeJu-on: the GrudgeDark Water), wardrobes (A Tale of Two Sisters) or even ordinary household water (Dark Water). Now, in Kim Sung-ho’s impressive feature debut, it is the turn of the mirror to reflect the viewers’ innermost fears and anxieties about themselves, revealing awful truths that some would prefer remain hidden forever.

Near the film’s beginning, a female staff member (Lee Young-jin) is seen standing in front of a large bathroom mirror, examining one by one the items which she has just stolen from the department store, until finally, at the end of what has been a long sequence without any cuts, her reflected image, which so far has matched her every move, now remains standing menacingly in the mirror even when the woman herself bends over to pick something up. It is a bravura set-piece, a long single take that forces the viewer to double-take at its creepy surprise – but it is also representative of what is to come, as this is a film full of twins, doubles and eerie asymmetries, where what is seen on the glossy surface of the mirror’s/cinema’s screen is not always what it seems. Indeed, not since Jean Cocteau’s 1950 classic Orphée has there been a film so full of the tricks and treacheries of mirrors.

Part horror, part psychological melodrama, but mostly a supernatural thriller, Into the Mirror (Geoul sokeuro) uses its cleverly conceived smoke and mirrors to fool viewers into imagining that they know exactly what is going on, and then leaves them pinching themselves for not having seen what has been dangled in front of their eyes from the start – and its final image may well stay fixed in your mind’s eye long after it has faded from the screen.

strap: Kim Sung-ho’s tale of two sisters, corruption, murder and symmetrical revenge haunts with all its smoke and mirrors.

Anton Bitel