There’s no getting away from folklore even in a contemporary setting. No matter which continent we might be on, each urban environment – crowded with people and traffic – will always birth stories that people whisper about or discover online. Given how pervasive urban myths are, it’s funny how they are not recognised as a cultural piece of their own in the countries they are in.
For now, they are best recognised through forum threads and webtoons, as well as the occasional film like Urban Myths. Director Hong Won-ki presents 10 separate rumoured tales to the audience in this newest anthology from Korea, and the ambitious effect is as mixed as they come.
Unlike its many predecessors, Urban Myths bit off a bit more than it could chew on. Even with a relatively generous runtime of two hours, quite a few chapters don’t get a chance to even warm up before they end. As you can imagine, this can be quite dissatisfying.
Wildly successful titles like V/H/S, Three… Extremes, or even 4bia had a few things in common: Unpredictable plots, visceral settings, rich context, and strong running themes. Though some of these are present in Urban Myths, they’re not present enough. The film is ultimately serving up a diluted experience of shocks.
This is a pity because some of the topics here are noteworthy. There’s online jealousy, bullying, even implied same-sex relationships gone awry – all subjects worthy of exploring. But besides throwing cautionary tales forward, the one-note presentations didn’t do justice to such nuanced themes.
What the film does well is eking out visual horror from some of the myths. Tooth worms is exactly as uncomfortable and terrifying as it sounds, and Mannequin places us in the front seat of meeting with those life-sized dolls that creep almost everyone out. There’s also a cupboard episode that will have you rethinking trading on marketplaces like Carousell.
Urban myths work because they are placed in some of our most everyday circumstances, but injecting our subconscious fears into these settings. A man moving into an apartment to start a conversation with a coy neighbour by knocking on the wall, or over-confidant teens thinking they can breeze through every escape game in town – these are scenarios we can easily see happening.
Unfortunately, Urban Myth’s snappy endings of these stories are a bit too much to swallow. It occasionally feels like that joked-about “and I woke up from my dream” ending we are so advised against for our compositions in school – that’s how ludicrous it can be.
The makers here have gathered young idols and even actors that have made their mark in this genre to bolster the showings. It helps somewhat, having an attractive cast with decent acting to propel the stories, but because the episodes are all much too short and completely disconnected, the final effect for Urban Myths is lacklustre.
Ambitious concept with episodes with potential to terrify, but limited in impact by its lack of length.
First published: www.moviexclusive.com