Of all the concessions horror has ever asked its fans to make, The Wig presents viewers with a freakin’ doozy. Films of the Asian persuasion have especially thrived on the ludicrous, what with every other one featuring some form of possessed technology menacing the main characters. But in focusing on, of all things, a haunted hairpiece, The Wig represents a new realm of silliness for the genre. It would’ve been a different story had it been played as a parody, but the filmmakers keep their game faces on the whole nine yards, rendering this flick an even bigger joke than it was to begin with.
Wherever artist Ji-hyun (Seon Yu) goes, tragedy seems to follow. Herself the victim of an accident that stole her voice, Ji-hyun can only sit back and watch as her sister Soo-hyun (Min-seo Chae) succumbs to terminal leukemia. To make her last days easier to bear, Ji-hyun buys her little sis a flowing black wig to replace the hair lost during chemotherapy. Surprisingly, the gift puts a pep Soo-hyun’s step, bestowing her with plenty of energy and a healthy appearance. But there’s a dark side to this seemingly innocent pastiche, something that’s causing Soo-hyun to adopt a nasty attitude and suffer terrifying hallucinations. It’s only after those around the siblings start to die that Ji-hyun realizes that the wig is possessed by an evil force — although separating Soo-yun from its influence may result in her death.
The Wig isn’t so much bad as it is incredibly frustrating. Long black hair has been a predominant symbol in Asian horror ever since its inception, so it’d make sense for a film to come along and incorporate it even more heavily. I just imagined that it’d be either a merciless spoof of the genre’s conventions or something intent on exploring its genealogy. What I didn’t expect, though, was Christine with split ends, an intensely schizophrenic film that straddles the line between the spooky and the utterly ridiculous. Normally, The Wig would be nothing special, merely the latest yawn-inducing addition to Asian horror’s canon of mediocrity. But to see it stick so closely to the pack is all the more maddening because of how often it comes close to actually being pretty good. Beneath the theatrical scares and laughable concept lie a few nuggets of effective drama. There’s definite tragic irony in the situation facing Ji-hyun; rescuing her sister from the wig might also be the very thing that seals her fate. It’s not often that a horror film is allowed to be interesting, but such themes, as subtle as they are, put forth an effort to endow the film with at least some semblance of a backbone.
It’s a lowdown dirty shame, however, to see The Wig retreat to horror’s most homogenized habits just when things were getting pretty neat. The film rigidly abides by a standard-issue formula, so much so that the story’s ability to make sense suffers because of it. So much about The Wig just sails right on by and leaves you in the dust, wondering what in the hell just happened. Characters come and go without leaving the slightest impression, and certain elements of the story (specifically Ji-hyun’s boyfriend) are left suspended in a state of irritating ambiguity. Then there’s the painfully predictable turn of events, right down to the obligatory twist, which the filmmakers of course breathe not a word about and spring on you at the last minute, in the world’s cheapest way of pulling a fast one. It’s all tiring to the point that you almost don’t care, until something like Min-seo Chae’s performance, nimbly capturing both aspects of Soo-hyun’s conflicted personality, makes an appearance. Then you realize the filmmakers could’ve easily done better, leaving you with the all too reasonable urge to bust some heads.
For the few times it works and comes across as a relatively unique experience, I almost want to recommend The Wig. But I can’t bring myself to be so kind, when the film constantly derails its mojo by dancing to a tune that’s been played out for years. It tried its best to make something scary out of something silly, but The Wig ultimately finds itself the root of everything wrong with Asian horror today.