Acacia DVD Review

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by Chris McEneany Jun 1, 2005 at 12:00 AM

    SRP: £19.99


    Tartan have delivered Acacia with an anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 transfer that captures Park's superlative cinematography and expert framing perfectly. The sense of depth and scale is well presented and aids immeasurably in drawing you into the movie. Grain is nowhere to be seen and no other print damage except for, maybe, a couple of jiggly scene changes, is evident, either. The cold colour palette is fairly accurate but, at times, still looks a little soft and muted. Reds, such as when a room is enmeshed in bright scarlet wool or the acacia appears to bleed, are rich and vivid. Jin-Sung's paintings are suitably and boldly rendered, too. The brief scene of a bright orange dusk is also nicely transferred to the disc. Skin tones are on the pale side, but I suspect that this is purposely so.

    The blacks are very good, thick and deep and very stable. The interior of the house benefits the most from this, with great shadows and a firm, lurking depth to the far corners and upstairs. But the problem lies with indistinct background detail and a troubling inability to handle bright surfaces or whites. A couple of cars and sunlit windows early on experience almost complete white-outs, and one or two scenes manifest a disconcerting shimmer. The sudden sight of leaves on the acacia should have provided a supreme image but is severely compromised by being over-brightened. The disc is also blighted by lots of edge-enhancement and juddering on panning shots left to right, or top to bottom - particularly a visual climb-down the acacia tree. This perhaps betrays an NTSC transfer. It is a shame because Park's film definitely deserves a better transfer than this.
    Acacia Picture


    Things look up on the audio side, though. Furnished with three subtitled tracks - Korean 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby Digital and a Korean 5.1 DTS too - Acacia is well catered-for.
    All the tracks sound good. The 2.0 delivers a fairly strong and clear rendition with plenty happening across the front. Dialogue is sharp and prominent and the shock-zingers are energetic and forthright.

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 is quite meaty and offers up plenty of surround usage but, once again, the kudos for track of choice goes to ... surprise, surprise - the DTS! To be honest, there really isn't a lot between this and the Dolby 5.1 mix, it's just that the DTS is slightly more convincing, certainly louder, but also a touch clearer and more distinct. Both employ good directional effects, with much opening and closing of doors, voices calling and phones ringing emanating from off-screen, and both supply heaps of realistic ambience. I keep getting fooled by birdsong in movies these days and have to replay the particular bit again, just to be sure. Acacia proved no exception.

    A wonderful quality to the score and sound design here is how it all seems to generate from somewhere low down, with a terrific base rumble that you can actually feel swelling up and around you. The pivotal rainstorm is full of menace and power, and with a touch of amp-tweakage thunder will work a treat with a weighty, ominous clout. However, whilst the sub and the front speakers are in for a fun time, the rears are still left out for long spells. One or two shock-jolts will suddenly leap in at you from all around the room, though, with violently unsettling power, so I don't think that there is a problem with the mix - it's just been designed that way. I often mention rainfall as a good indicator of sound precision and steerage, and while there is a well-delivered storm evidenced here, it is the blood-rain streaming from the acacia at one point that you should listen out for. Really organic sounding and wet.

    So, all in all, a good set of sound-mixes. DTS claims the prize though with more depth and impact and a slightly more immersive soundstage.
    Acacia Sound


    Well, despite the retail copy allegedly containing Deleted Scenes and a 4-Page Booklet, I'm reviewing the check disc that only features a 5-Part Making Of and the theatrical trailer and a rather pitiful selection of bonuses these are, too. Listed as Making Of Featurette on one menu, this is actually sub-divided into five tiny little behind-the-scenes mini-featurettes on another. All subtitled, we get Action And Cut (5.11), The World In The Movie (3.51), About The Director (2.50), Cast Interviews (5.00) and Interview With The Director (4.44) but none of these offer us anything of value. All are captured on-set - the first three are just snapshots of the filming of several sequences, with Ki-Hyung Park giving advice and direction to his cast. Hardly entertaining or revealing, and shown without benefit of context or overview from the makers, the cameras are simply left rolling to cover what amounts to insubstantial B-roll footage. Got to be hard acting under that rain-machine, though.

    Things have the potential to improve with the interview sections, but are hamstrung by Hye-Jin Shim, Do-Il and director Park coming across as tired and slightly ill-at-ease. Jin-Geun Kim (Dad) discusses his nerves at playing a leading role and his gratitude for getting the part. Hye-Jin Shim (Mum) informs us as to why she took the role after a lengthy break in her career. Both seem uncomfortable and eager to please people standing off-camera. Park fares a little better but still seems to be picking his words very carefully. He mentions the difficulty of shooting the rain scene and the actors' hardships, but he goes on too much about the qualities of experienced performers over in-experienced ones. Nothing is offered in the way of explanation as to the means and methods of the film's genesis or construction, and the whole set of interviews carry a somewhat reluctant air about them. Definitely not the usual, run-of-the-mill attitudes that actors and film-makers normally exhibit in promos and not in a good way, either.

    Plus, we get the 1.57 minute theatrical trailer. Not a good way to treat this film, at all. Hopefully the advertised Deleted Scenes on the retail copy add something of value.
    Acacia Extras


    Park's film is a masterful take on a crowded horror sub-genre. He attains a unique coldness to the plot and the performances that may not be to everyone's taste but the imagery, so essential an element to Asian cinema, is solid and resonant throughout. Yes, there's even a shot of a female face with bedraggled black hair obscuring most of it! Some of the knee-jerk shocks are perfunctory, but they still worked for me, and the creepy sense of dread and apprehension created almost from the get-go is truly commendable. It's marvellous how a tale of only a few characters in a very small setting, strung along on an intimate plot can still feel epic in scope and atmosphere. A good, solid chiller. Even the disc's menu screens, full of animated vines and truly horrible stretching and organic sound effects unsettles. Tartan's transfer isn't the best and the lack of any decent extras - at least on the check disc - is disappointing, but I still recommend the film itself. I know that as I get older and, especially now that I have a young child of my own, I feel this kind of drama more keenly, but even as a die-hard horror fanatic with tastes that take in the quiet, dreamy likes of Val Lewton (can't wait for that boxset coming out around Halloween) to the gut-munching excesses of Lucio Fulci, I felt immensely satisfied with the mysterious narrative and the stifling sense of menace that Acacia provided.
    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99

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