Dead Friend (2004) by Kim Tae-kyeong

An amnesiac seeks to uncover the truth about the rash of killings at her school.


Part of the burgeoning wave of K-horror films in the early 2000s, South Korea managed to tap into the exploding wave of titles being produced in Japan. They traded on a formula of pretty people being menaced by a white-faced, long black-haired female ghost popping out of obscure places. However, even in the slew of titles offered in the scene, few rise to the heights of Kim Tae-kyeong's "Dead Friend", originally released as 'Ryeong.'

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Suffering from amnesia, Min Ji-wong, (Kim Ha-neul, from "My Tutor Friend") decides to leave her home to help recover her memory, which upsets her friend Jun-ho, (Jin Ryu, from "Baby Faced Beauty") who begs her to stay. Agreeing to finish the classes, she tries to get over the difficulty of the situation, when she finds out that her former friends Eun-sae, (Jeon Hye-bin, from "Luck-Key") Eun-jung, (Lee Yun-ji, from "Princess Hours") Yu-jung, (Jeon Hie-ju) and Mi-kyeong, (Yi Shin, from "Sex is Zero") are being killed off by the malevolent spirit of Su-in, (Nam Sang-mi, from "Too Beautiful to Die") who is tormenting them for a prank committed in the past by the group, despite her not knowing the incident. As she gradually begins to remember what happened, she tries to save her friends from falling victim to the ghost out on a rampage.

This was an extremely entertaining entry that had plenty to enjoy about it. One of the best parts is that there are so many supernatural encounters that the film is seemingly built around them. It starts off with a bang as the girls playing with an Ouija board, the usually-creepy game, and is mixed nicely with the cutaways to the restless sleep. This is a perfect suspense-builder which then segues beautifully into the twist and the final kitchen attack, which is a stellar show-stopping moment. A similar scene in a darkroom is almost as good, with the picture-scare serving nicely to start the proceedings, the suddenly-blackened room lit only with a cigarette-lighter being ultimately creepy, and the ghost appearing out of nowhere illuminated by the object is just spectacular. Other standout scenes include the freak-out in the movie theater to a fantastic dream sequence where they play hide-and-seek with a ghost in a fog-covered cemetery along with a great scene where there are seemingly endless flashes of nightmare-ish faces appearing out of nowhere, as the film tends to have a very well-rounded series of scenes with its ghost.


Also really fun is the several flashbacks that are used to spell everything out, since there's so much to learn here. The two main ones are the best, as each one manages to add a little bit more info on the story at hand, where we initially learn what she was like  in the past with the group of friends bullying the girl, to how they singled her out to be picked on in the first place. The second flashback that shows how they eventually grew apart after the difference in their social stature,  makes for a great contrast to her current state. We get to see the personality change in Ji-won rather clearly from these scenes. She goes from a friendly and outgoing person to a colder, much less friendly face who enjoys the pain of tormenting those around her, which Su-in is not ready for. Therefore, she ends up becoming the target of Ji-won's group and pays with her life for it. Overall, these flashbacks help sell this one even further.

For the most part, the cast here is certainly playing with their best foot forward. As lead Min Ji-wong, Kim Ha-neul has a lot to draw you in here as she's quite enjoyable throughout. Initially hampered by amnesia, she eventually grows into a more bubbly personality the more she remembers, even if there's some shading to her original persona. That creates a bit of intrigue as to the difference of the personas but she still has a lot to like about her and it's fine to follow her in this role. Playing her attempted boyfriend Jun-ho, Jin Ryu creates a wholly intriguing presence. Initiating the relationship in the first place, he appears calm and caring but some of his behavior gives the impression that he's hiding a secret and you never know if you can trust him or not. It's a great performance as you never can truly tell and this is to the film's benefit in that regard. As well, the main girl featured in their group, Eun-jung, played by Lee Yun-ji, comes off as the fiery best friend and despite being an initial accuser of Ji-won, she changes her attitude about her and helps out by giving some vital clues to solve the mystery. The other girls aren't shown as often, but leave a solid impression of a group of close-knit friends attempting to become the hierarchy at the school rather nicely.


There wasn't a whole lot here that wasn't enjoyable. One of the few problems is the film's rather slow beginning due to several relatively small issues. The fact that the scares presented here, from the hide-and-seek game the young girl plays to the encounters in the swimming pool, are really just too short to mean anything. They come off so rapidly that it's hard to take in what's happened as they're done without ever doing anything about them. The last big flaw of the movie is the fact that the middle segments are so slowly-paced outside of the ghost's actions, that  it hardly has anything worthwhile. First up is the fact that the amnesia angle is dragged out way too long to really mean much of anything. This plotline ends up taking up the entire middle portion of the film and not at all doing much to keep the momentum going, since the film takes an eternity to spell out what really happened. It also doesn't help much that an explanation for their behavior toward Su-in is beyond lame and really shouldn't have been the cause. These here are the film's few problems.

Frankly, this was an incredibly entertaining and enjoyable Asian ghost story that manages to entertain considerably despite a few minor flaws found within. This is highly recommended to fans of that particular genre as well as those who have a fond taste for these kinds of films, otherwise, those who don't should heed caution.


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Asian Film Vault: Dead Friend (2004) by Kim Tae-kyeong
Dead Friend (2004) by Kim Tae-kyeong
An amnesiac seeks to uncover the truth about the rash of killings at her school.
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