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Antarctic Journal
|     Review #1    |     Review #2    |     availability     |
"This is the best vacation EVER!"

Song Kang-Ho and Yoo Ji-Tae wonder what's in the Antarctic Journal.
Year: 2005  
Director: Im Pil-Sung  
  Cast: Song Kang-Ho, Yoo Ji-Tae, Kim Kyung-Ik, Choe Deok-Moon, Kang Jye-Jung
  The Skinny: A team of explorers encounter various mishaps in the South Pole. Are their troubles psychological or supernatural? Sadly, it doesn't matter. Although the filmmakers should be commended for trying to do something different with the increasingly formulaic subgenre of "Asian Horror," the film itself fails to provide any real scares.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      Asian horror takes a break from haunted houses, possessed video tapes, and killer cell phones and goes straight to the South Pole in Antarctic Journal, a disappointing commercial picture that can't decide whether it wants to be a psychological thriller or a straightforward horror movie. The filmmakers try to create a tension between both explanations, but instead, the end result comes across as muddled and decidedly tame.
     The movie centers on a six-man expedition team looking to reach Antarctica's Point of Inaccessibility, a near impossible place to reach and the plot's de facto MacGuffin. Led by by Choe Do-Hyung (Song Kang-Ho, from Memories of Murder and The Foul King), the team is made up of, what else, a ragtag group of explorers. They include everyman Min-Jae (Yoo Ji-Tae, from Old Boy), the bespectacled navigator Young-Min (Park Hee-Soon), Seong-Hoon (Yun Je-Moon), Geun-Chan (Kim Kyung-Ik), and Jae Kyung (Choe Seok-Moon). Everything is going fine until the team stumbles upon a makeshift flag planted in the snow. Buried beneath that flag, Min-Jae discovers a tattered journal left by a British expedition team some eighty years in the past. Only a few pages a readable, but there are some spooky drawings that not only point to the fate of the British crew, but eerily parallel the mishaps affecting the Korean team in the present day. In fact, the journal might as well be the demonic Book of the Dead because from that point forward, IT ALL GOES TO HELL for our hapless heroes.
     Thanks to the journal, all sorts of strange things start happening: ghostly images appear in videos, the men are plagued with strange visions and dreams, and one crew member gets sick even though there are no viruses in the Antarctic. To make matters worse, while pushing his team to reach their final destination, the relentless team captain seems to be haunted by something from his past, something that just might kill them all. And that's when people in the crew start disappearing. Clearly, things are not going to end well for these guys.
     Antarctic Journal
marks the feature length directorial debut of Im Pil-Seong, who in terms of sheer theatrical spectacle makes quite a splash with this film. The main problem, however, is that this big-budget production lacks a certain clarity of vision. There are certain sequences early on that would lead audiences to believe that Antarctic Journal will be a Korean update of John Carpenter's The Thing or, at the very least, an example of Asian horror transplanted to an exciting new locale. But just as soon as these ghostly occurrences are established, it seems the filmmakers want the movie to be a more intimate, character-driven psychological thriller about how pride, paranoia, and fear can break out among a "family" under both intense mental and physical duress. Both the psychological and more straightforward horror dimensions could have existed in the film simultaneously in a more compelling way, if not for a few puzzling narrative choices.
      For example, Choe Do-Hyung is shown to be a man haunted by something in his past, but whether this haunting is a literal ghost or a psychological projection of the man's deranged mind is a question that goes unanswered in the film. Normally, this sort of ambiguity would be fine, but the problem is that many times certain supernatural occurrences are shot not from the subjective viewpoint of a character, but from a viewpoint that no character could possibly have (e.g., at one point a ghostly hand appears on a video recording), thus creating the impression that these hauntings are not hallucinations. However, even if the ghost is real, its origin has no connection to Antarctica, and doesn't explain why the Korean explorers are undergoing basically the same tragedy that befell the British explorers back in 1922. Instead of crafting a variation on Stephen King's The Shining in which ghosts (or memories and alcoholism, depending on your interpretation) push a relatively sane man over the edge, director Im Pil-Sung confuses matters in Antarctic Journal by presenting an inconsistent point of view.
     For some, this kind of attention to detail may not be necessary; they may find Antarctic Journal to be a suitably frightening cinematic experience. Certainly, the filmmakers should be commended for trying something different with "Asian Horror," since the film's icy, desolate setting does create a unique sense of fear and isolation that helps the overall story. In the end, my feelings about the film seem to parallel the Korean crew members' thoughts about the expedition itself: while awe-inspiring and certainly unique, Antarctic Journal itself amounts to a monotonous, repetitive, and ultimately futile journey. (Calvin McMillin, 2005)
Alternate Review
by Kozo:
     Im Pil-Sung's Antarctic Journal looks like it's headed somewhere. Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving. The tale of six Korean explorers out to reach the Antarctic's fabled "Point of Inaccessibility", Antarctic Journal certainly starts with some promise. Im introduces the six-man team led by veteran explorer Choe Do-Hyung (Song Kang-Ho), as they enter what looks to be a fulfilling trek through the Antarctic snow. But things go bad. Hints and clues begin dropping in that this is a doomed journey, the ultimate harbinger being the discovery of an old journal left by a similar British expedition decades ago. The journal is left in the care of young Min-Jae (Yoo Ji-Tae), and it actually contains clues of a possible bad ending for the previous explorers. Do people read closely and take heed? Nope. They push forward, through bad weather and increasingly worse luck. Something's gotta give, and it does.
     Unfortunately, that something may be audience patience. Antarctic Journal is well-made and possesses the immersive buildup of a psychological horror gem. The problem is that it ultimately heads nowhere. Clues are dropped that there's something alive and supernatural at work, but nothing is explicitly revealed. Even worse, a lot goes unexplained. Blood is spilt as the expedition gets more harrowing - but the reddest thing about the movie has to be all the damn herrings. Are there ghosts, past sins, or maybe even something far worse at play? M
aybe, but the filmmakers seem to think that the ride is ultimately enough to compensate for whatever questions don't get answered. There's intriguing and even disturbing human horror at work, and Song Kang-Ho is very effective as the increasingly loopy captain. But despite the slow-burn descent into hellish happenings (things go bad, but the team HAS to reach the Point of Inaccessibility), nothing about Antarctic Journal feels necessary. When the final message is revealed, the likely response is probably, "Duh!" Such inevitable darkness should feel as if it could really occur no other way. Sadly, Antarctic Journal doesn't feel inevitable. It just feels depressing. (Kozo 2005)
Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
EnterOne DVD
2-Disc Limited Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
Removable English and Korean Subtitles
Various Extras
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen