Arang (2006) by Ahn Sang-hoon

Despite the familiar premise of “Arang” is quite different movie that is a must watch for the fans of crime-thriller movies.




‘’Arang’’ is the first feature film of  director Ahn Sang-hoon. Moreover, he co-writes the script with other three scriptwriters, namely, Jeong Seon-joo, Lee Jeong-seob and Sin Yoon-kyeong.


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During the first five minutes of the film, plentiful events occur. The first scene opens with two high-school girls walking down a road on a rainy night, while one of them describes the horrific story of another girl who, while passing the same road on a rainy night, she saw a ghost of a woman with long black hair near the salt-house. The next scene cuts to a young man in front of his computer. He just receives an email that leads to a bizarre video of a salt-house and an even more peculiar website. The video suddenly changes to a live video of his room showing a long haired female ghost approaching him. What is heard next are the loud screams of the man. In the next scene, the sudden awaking of a woman from her strange and horrifying dream alters with a young woman walking towards a salt-house and the silhouette of a man walking up the stairs. This woman is the veteran homicide detective and aspiring writer So-yeong (Song Yoon-ah) . Her superior, the Squad Leader Kim (Jeong Won-joong) suddenly calls So-yeong to the crime scene of the aforementioned young man. When she arrives, he informs So-yeong that he assigned rookie detective Hyeon-gi (Lee Dong-wook) to be her partner. As the two new partners try to solve the mysterious death case, another similar death of another young man occurs. After their investigation, the two detectives find that the two dead men have a common denominator: the murder of a young man, years ago in a salt-house. In addition to this, they learn that his girlfriend disappeared immediately after his death.

The premise and core of the movie are not unique (long black haired female ghost looking for revenge)., since there is no parthenogenesis in the movies’ scripts. However, what is important is the presentation of a story told myriad times. Nevertheless, this is by no means a drawback of the movie at all. “Arang” manages to present its main story in a totally different manner. The films' writers achieve this by adding the element of investigation by police officers instead of a search by random citizens convoluted with the story’s events. Moreover, the use of analytical methods and scientific analysis transforms a pure horror movie into a crime and suspense movie. This is the uniqueness of “Arang”; it takes a supernatural horror story and presents it in a plausible way.

During the movie, through the various astonishing dreams and flashbacks, which fortunately are not confusing due to the great editing by Ko Im-pyo, the two main characters are well fleshed-out and especially So-yeong. The scriptwriters give a solid background for So-yeong and a full explanation about the roots of her hatred for molesters and the reasoning behind her deep desire of becoming a police officer.

Additionally, the several underlying messages are another reason that “Arang” stands out from other similar productions, and also add depth to the film. For example, the film highlights the prejudice about a woman being a police officer. Another example is that life may force someone to pick a job that is not his first choice, although nobody should give up his dreams. Among the messages is also the nature of true love. If someone has a love that is unrequited and the person that he/she loves has a heart beating for another person, this doesn’t mean that he/she should try to hurt that person, but always must offer help and protection since true love is unselfish.  

“The law doesn’t help busting the bad guys”, Hyeon-gi says. This is a remark about the police not always following the protocols for catching the criminals. This phrase can be interpreted in various fashions. Either this is a completely wrong approach or the police has no choice but to use unfair methods to beat the criminals in their game.

The film’s main and apparent message is about forgiveness and especially self-forgiveness after the acknowledgment of the mistakes. A person has two choices, either understanding the mistakes that has committed in the past and ask forgiveness from the person that he wronged or to drown in guilt and regrets. 


Song Yoon-A as the touchy tomboy So-Young is quite satisfactory, but in terms of acting Lee Dong-wook as Hyeon-gi is superior. One of the scenes where he is truly captivating and sheds a new light in the character that he is portraying is the one where he stands outside women’s toilets while So-yeong is crying silently inside. Lee Dong-wook’s character is unable to do anything to reduce her deep pain and he just stands quietly outside. Lee Dong-wook succeeds in portraying all his character’s emotions just with his looks and his devastating expression. On the one hand is the sympathy that has for his partner and on the other hand is the realization of how women must feel when they are physically and/or emotionally violated.

The supporting cast does also a decent job in the portrayal of feelings such as fear, despair and horror. These expressions are inherently difficult to portray and occasionally actors can over exaggerate with their facial expressions. Thankfully, this is not the case with “Arang”. It’s worth mentioning that Jeong Won-joong as Squad Leader Kim makes a truly sympathetic character and, although he is an actor that he is mostly known for his supporting characters, he never fails to catch the eye of the viewer.

Directors can utilize different methods in order to show the transition from present to past in the description of a past story. One clever method which director Ahn Sang-hoon uses in his impressive debut, is the movement of the camera behind Squad Leader Kim’s back. In this fashion, the next cut shows a scene occurring in the past but in the same room. One final note on the technical aspect of the film is the horrific background music by Dong-In Jung, which is utterly fitting for the movie.

This movie is an example that the writing of a script by more than one scriptwriters is beneficial for the final product. The four writers had the clever idea to take elements from a famous Korean folk-tale and combine it masterfully with the modern horror elements e.g. computers, emails, video cameras and also with crime scene investigations.  


The last ten minutes elevate “Arang” from an average to an exceptional film. All technical aspects are top-notch.  From the directing, cinematography, acting to the dialogues and monologues, everything is excellent. The scene in the salt-house is the highlight, as it manages to cause various antithetical feelings to the viewer: hate, sympathy, heart-warming. Moreover, the film offers, in the last minutes, extraordinary twists that even the most hard-core fan of thriller will not predict. 

Despite the familiar premise,“Arang” is quite a different movie that is a must-watch for the fans of crime-thriller movies.  As was already mentioned above, the film is considered an excellent addition to the numerous horror movies due to the great scientific explanations of the various incidents. Unfortunately, to the fans of pure horror movies, this may bring a little bit disappointment since they may not get chills due to the cliches of the horror sequences.




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Asian Film Vault: Arang (2006) by Ahn Sang-hoon
Arang (2006) by Ahn Sang-hoon
Despite the familiar premise of “Arang” is quite different movie that is a must watch for the fans of crime-thriller movies.
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