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Where EAST meets the Northwest

From The Asian Reporter, V16, #17 (April 25, 2006), page 16.

A film pregnant with meaning

Unborn But Forgotten

Directed by Chang-jae Lim
Produced by Hee-suk Yu
Distributed by Tartan Films, 2005
DVD, 95 minutes, $24.99

By Mike Street

Special to The Asian Reporter

To the best of my knowledge, no pro-life group has ever financed a horror movie, but if one did, it might look somewhat like Unborn But Forgotten. The debut of Korean director Chang-jae Lim, Unborn combines the unlikely plot elements of unmarried pregnancy, a killer website, and a mysterious curse, making for an awkward and didactic film. Unborn aims itself squarely at frightening young women, playing on their fears of unwanted pregnancy and its life-altering results ó concerns that resonate more strongly with a Korean audience, which frowns on unwed motherhood more than Westerners.

Su-jin Han (Eun-ju Lee) is a television reporter researching a story on Detective Choi (Jun-ho Jeong), a cybercrime expert pursuing a case about a womenís clinic website. Any woman who visits the site dies after fifteen days have elapsed, always from complications related to a late-term pregnancy that friends and family insist did not exist. While witnessing the death of one of the victims, Han sees the womanís belly bloat outwards momentarily before returning to normal. Though her videotape of the phantom pregnancy is mysteriously blurry, Han is convinced of what she saw and becomes drawn into Choiís investigation.

In the meantime, Han has problems of her own with her boyfriend, Ei-suk Jung (Seong-yong Kye), a newscaster at her television station. Although they have tried to keep their relationship quiet, her pregnancy has begun rumors, and the stationís general manager warns them against creating a scandal. Han says she will "take care" of the pregnancy on her own, and she ends up at the same womenís clinic featured on the deadly website, although itís not clear whether she has an examination or an abortion. At home afterwards, Han visits the website and sees the mysterious white room reported by the other victims ó and she, too, becomes drawn into the deadly curse.

Fans of current horror films may recognize the plot as belonging to movies such as Fear.com, Phone, or Ringu, and the phantom-pregnancy twist added to this film isnít enough to sufficiently distinguish Unborn But Forgotten from these others. Limís direction is tidy and draws the requisite gasps and starts from the audience, but he is dealing with a fundamentally flawed product.

The storyline is muddled, even for a horror movie, and viewers are likely to finish the movie unsure of the identity of the real killer, or even the fate of the unborn baby of the title. Peripheral characters, such as the mystical woman from upstairs who seems to have exceptional insight into the curse, come and go unsatisfactorily. With the exception of Han and Choi, in fact, characters seem to be little more than props to move the action along.

Some confusion seems also to have resulted over the translation of the filmís title, which appears as Unborn But Forgotten on the DVD cover and promotional materials, but as Unborn But Unforgotten in the subtitles of the film and trailer. The latter seems more appropriate to the story behind the curse, involving a regretted abortion, but the mistake might point to the forgettable premise of the film. The original title of the movie means The White Room, referring to the mysterious website, and one wonders why Tartan Asia chose such an awkward and inconsistent substitute.

Itís probable that the theme of unwanted pregnancies and abortions had a greater impact in South Korea, where the film was initially released. The best horror movies reveal taboos and hidden neuroses of society, but they typically do so indirectly, through suggestion and metaphor. Unborn But Forgotten draws directly on apprehensions about pregnancy and single motherhood, so that any resultant fright feels preachy, like the haunted houses put on by church groups on Halloween. The odd premise does frighten sufficiently, however, to suggest that newly pregnant mothers, if not the general public, should avoid watching the film.

Unborn But Forgotten is now available on DVD. To learn more about Tartanís Asian film offerings, visit <www.tartanfilmsusa.com>.