Spotlight on Asian Horror presents Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait

Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Studio: CJ Entertainment

Director: Tae-kyeong Kim

Review Rating: 7.5

A Korean writer with a troubled past travels to Vietnam to research the local legend of Muoi, a vengeful spirit, for her second novel.

Asian Horror cinema has come a long way from almost nonexistence, and Muoi is apparently considered the first Vietnamese stab at Horror. And I personally loved this film, even including the clash of Korean and Vietnamese cultures. The traditional Vietnamese dress, called the Ao Dai, features prominently in the ghost story and the haunting of the modern would-be sleuths, and I thought that was a fine thing too. The scenery, shot mostly in Vietnam apparently, is breathtakingly beautiful and just adds to the atmosphere in this chiller of a Horror flick.

So Yun-Hee, the writer, is being pressured to come up with something fresh for her next book. Her first book, Secrets & Lies, it turns out was based on rumors and hearsay concerning friends of hers back in Korea, and she makes the mistake of portraying Seo-Yeon as the horrible antagonist. You’d think she’d know better, when Seo-Yeon offers to let Yun-Hee come stay with her in Vietnam to research the local legend of Muoi, the ghost girl and her portrait. From here, we immediately delve into the mystery of Muoi herself, and I can’t help but once again deplore the plight of a lot of Asian women and their travails in love. Muoi is a lovely Vietnamese woman who, innocently enough, has an affair with a man painting her portrait, knowing full well he’s engaged to a rich fiancé, and sure enough lets him leave when he has to. Not too long after that, the rich fiancé finds Muoi and extracts terrible vengeance on her, with a shattered ankle and a hearty dose of acid in the face. Muoi takes her own life and begins her existence as a terrible vengeful spirit, whose curse can be invoked when death calls for it.

Poor Muoi. More to the point, poor Seo-Yeon, who it turns out did not a single thing to deserve all the invective Yun-Hee heaped upon her in her book. In an almost impossible to watch scene, Seo-Yeon reveals in a flashback a rape and torture scene perpetrated by her “friends” back in Korea, the result of the too-popular guy who already had an apparently insanely jealous girlfriend. Seo-Yeon has learned her lessons, and learned them well, teaching Yun-Hee all there is to know about Muoi in godawful stages, up to the climactic scene where she demands to be killed to stop Muoi’s curse from killing them both. Far too late, does Yun-Hee remember, the curse begins with death. And that isn’t even the end of the film, or Seo-Yeon and Muoi’s own vengeance. It seems a shame that the bit-too-upright Vietnamese Bureau of Cinema vetoed a lot of what could have been very fine Horror moments, but the film nevertheless comes across as a stunning bit to watch with a very fine ghost story embroidered throughout.

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