Unique Korean Horror: The 8th Night (Netflix, 2021)
My latest project has been watching international horror movies. Watching scary movies from all around the world has been a really fun experience so far. To date, I’ve written reviews for Thai, Malaysian, Canadian, British, American, and Australian horror movies. For the record, my favorites so far have been the Thai ones.
Today, I add Korean horror to the list.
What do you think are the coolest aspects of enjoying movies from other countries? For me, it’s the little things. The architecture looks different. The environment. The trees, the foliage. In Inhuman Kiss, for example, we get to see a lot of palm trees, forests, and cattle.
In Netflix’s The 8th Night, we get to see what Korean houses look like, especially in tightly packed neighborhoods; we get to see cool shrines, too, and definitely a bit of nature as well.
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The 8th Night Plot
Writer/Director Kim Tae-Hyoung went the extra mile with the premise for The 8th Night.
The Premise: in ancient times, there once existed a monster which planned to create a state of unlimited suffering. This monster wanted to manifest hell, but the Buddah stopped him by ripping out his eyes and tossing them into sarira caskets, small containers full of pearls and other small shiny objects. These are real religious relics, and some are even said to possess the physical remains of the Buddahs.
In 2005, a Korean archaeologist found one of the eyes, and now that eye is trying to reunite with its twin in order to wreak havoc on the world once again. Now, a few Buddhist monks figure out that the red eye is trying to resurrect the monster. It’s up to them to prevent Hell on Earth.
But how do you stop the monster from becoming whole again? In the 8th Night, monk Cheong Seok (played by Nam Da-reum) must seek out crazy old guy Park Jin-soo (played by Lee Sung-min) to team up and take the monster down once and for all.
It’s a unique twist on Buddhist religious mythology that reminds me of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Or even just vampire lore in general. I mean, think about it: Christian religious artifacts like crosses can damage vampires. Or think about holy water in classics like The Exorcist.
Yet, where Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is unapologetically goofy in its premise, The 8th Night takes itself a bit more seriously. But even so, when you get Lee Sung-min’s character painting the Om symbol on a hatchet in blood, then holding it against Buddhist prayer beads to fight off the demon, you can’t help but notice how silly the whole premise seems to be.
There’s even a scene where they burn a Buddha statue that instantly reminded me of burning crosses.
Despite all the goofiness of the plotline, The 8th Night offers story originality (gotta give them that), a fresh take on the classic religious-based horror movie, complex characters, A-1 acting, and eerie set design.
The 8th Night: Korean Horror Movie Review
The 8th Night: Scare Factor
Low. Very low. This is a supernatural horror movie. There aren’t a lot of jump scares, and most of the jump scares are just mildly frightening faces.
For their part, the makeup and computer generated faces are quite scary. The actors do a great job. But overall, I have to admit that The 8th Night just wasn’t that scary. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t that scary.
The set design did help out with the scare factor. The colors are dark and brooding, with lots of deep blues, pale yellows, and black shadows going on. I felt these were smart color choices because the scenes with the monster were extra scary since that dark crimson red color of gore they chose stands out against the rest of the palate, which makes you feel more scared of it.
Jump scares: 3/10
Set design: 7/10
Musical score: It worked. Nothing special though
So if The 8th Night wasn’t too scary, and the premise was a little goofy, then why did I like it so much?
I already mentioned the story’s originality, makeup, and set design. But for me, what really sets The 8th Night apart is the complex characters. In this, Writer/Director Kim Tae-Hyoung’s film stands out as an obviously Korean movie.
The characters have real depth, especially Cheong Seok, the young monk who, at the start of the movie, has taken a vow of silence. He’s an innocent, honest boy with a big heart who has to make some difficult decisions, including murder. Cheong Seok’s internal struggle about whether or not to bring the hatchet down on another human being makes his decision that much more riveting.
Cheong Seok is a likeable character. He’s easy to empathize with. He’s also the only source of humor in the movie.
Humor in horror movies isn’t unheard of. I mean, comedy horror is its own damn subgenre. But comedy horror is horror making fun of itself. The 8th Night is different. Its comedy has heartwarming, character-driven depth. Like when Cheon Seok sees a girl with a nice butt at the ice cream shop. He may be a monk, but he’s only human after all.
Bitter and Sweet: Why The 8th Night Works
The best chocolates aren’t only sweet, but have bitter qualities, too. The best metal music isn’t always hard, nor is the best classical music always soft. Good paintings and photographs make use of negative space, and all the most beautiful supermodels have some quirky flaw or another which makes them appear unique.
The best of what The 8th Night offers is a balance of conflicting flavors. By balancing deep blues, pale yellows, and dark shadows of the palate, the violent scenes appear especially vicious. Similarly, by stirring the mood-pot of horror with humor and humanity, Cheon Seok’s choices matter more to us. As we watch, his fear becomes our fear; his difficult decisions become ours.