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29 February

Original title: 2 wol 29 il

aka The Curse of February 29th; February 29

D: Jung Jong-hoon / 90m

Cast: Park Eun-hye, Lim Ho, Lee Myung-jin, Lim Hyun-kyung, Kim Jae-man, Son Jung-bum

Ji-yeon (Park) works the late shift at a tollgate. It’s dull, unexciting work until the evening of February 27th. Just before her shift ends, the tollgate suffers an unexpected blackout. While Ji-yeon wonders what’s happening, a car comes up to her booth. She takes the ticket given to her by the driver, who quickly speeds off. Only then does Ji-yeon realise the ticket is covered in blood. The power comes back on and she goes home after being relieved by her friend Jong-sook (Lim Hyun-kyung). The next day Ji-yeon learns there was a murder at a nearby tollgate. Her friend jokes that it’s the curse of the tollgate, and tells her about an accident involving a prison bus that exploded and the female murderer who was supposed to have died in the fire. The story goes that her body was never found, and now every leap year, she comes back to claim more victims.

Ji-yeon is affected by the story, and has a nightmare in which she sees the woman’s burned face. She’s visited by the police officers (Lim Ho, Lee) who are looking into the murder, but she’s not able to tell them much. That night the tollgate suffers another blackout and the same car returns, again with a bloodstained ticket. The police, now dealing with two murders, become more involved, especially when they learn that the blood isn’t from the victims. Ji-yeon tells them the story of the female murderer, and though they’re not entirely convinced, they still look into it. When they show Ji-yeon a photo of the woman, she identifies her straight away as the woman she’s seen.

Having originally taken the night of the 29th off to celebrate Jong-sook’s birthday, Ji-yeon is horrified to learn that her friend has agreed to cover someone else’s shift that night. Ji-yeon rushes to the tollgate but is too late to stop Jong-sook from being murdered. With visions of the woman becoming more prevalent, and finding it difficult to sleep, Ji-yeon goes back to work accompanied by the police, who lie in wait for the car and its murderous occupant to return to the tollgate.

29 February - scene

Part of a series of four horror movies made and released in 2006 – the others being Hidden Floor, Dark Forest, and Roommates – this is a somewhat slight tale that might have played better as a short, and which never completely capitalises on its basic premise. Opening with a journalist’s visit to a mental hospital – where we first meet Ji-yeon as a patient – her story is told in flashback as we witness the events that have driven her to fear for her life. What unfolds is a familiar tale of haunting and murder that has much in common with other K-Horror (and even J-Horror) movies, but which doesn’t offer – at least at first – any reason for the ghostly murderer to be targeting Ji-yeon in the first place.

With the movie holding out for a more rational explanation of events nearer the end, the viewer is left with the feeling that the script, co-written by director Jung and Yoo Il-han, has been cobbled together with the idea of including as many unlikely scares and supernatural confrontations as it can manage without appearing too silly. That it manages to avoid this – though only just – is due to the relatively matter-of-fact approach Jung takes to the material, and the otherwise mundane way in which the plot unfolds. Ji-yeon becomes increasingly disturbed, the police remain baffled and confused, and the ghostly murderer pops up in all manner of places (see picture above) just to keep things from getting too staid. It’s not exactly a tired movie, just one that doesn’t try very hard.

Of course, horror movies by and large don’t have to make perfect sense, but it does help, especially when strange events are given what appears to be a rational explanation. And with the journalist’s interview with Ji-yeon having ended, the movie comes up with what it wants the audience to believe is the definitive spin on events. However, while it makes superficial sense, it’s so full of holes that even a viewer who’s only been paying partial attention will realise how daft it is. And then the movie trumps it’s own conclusions by adding on a twist that both supports and undermines both premises altogether (which is quite clever when you think about it).

The cast are proficient enough with Park keeping what could have been a more hysterical performance in check, and making Ji-yeon a more sympathetic character in the process (though when she’s required to look exhausted, instead she looks like she’s on drugs). Lim Ho as the senior Inspector who suffers an (initially) unexplained arm injury adds a layer of world-weariness to matters, while Lee plays the junior officer with a brash good nature that shows there is some comedy to be squeezed from the script. The rest of the cast don’t really make of a connection, with Kim’s journalist proving too vapid and Son’s hospital orderly too smug.

Jung, whose only feature to date this is, handles the supernatural elements well enough but the jump scares lack the visceral intensity to make them work as effectively as they should. And more could have been made of the tollgate location, but alas the camerawork is sluggish and there are too many occasions where it fails to take advantage of its surprisingly creepy vibe. With so little tension being created, Jung ploughs forward in the hope of the movie having an accumulative effect, but by the time it reaches its final confrontation, the movie doesn’t have enough left to get excited about.

Rating: 5/10 – serviceable, but too bland to be anywhere near terrifying, 29 February coasts along for much of its running time hoping to make an impression; that it doesn’t is due to a pallid script and an approach we’ve seen too many times before, making it one for K-Horror completists only.

TRAILER: There is a trailer for 29 February but it doesn’t have English subtitles. If anyone still wants to see it, it can be found here.