Directed by Kim Jin-won, Warning: Do Not Play is our latest installment in the South Korean Sunday catalog, and is currently available on the Shudder streaming service, branding itself a Shudder Exclusive film. The feature was released in late-2019, and is comprised of a cast that includes Seo Yea-ji and Jin Seon-kyu.
This is a film I might not otherwise have checked out, similar to last week’s review of Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum. Like that film’s generic subtitle, Warning: Do Not Play’s chosen name is one I feel like I have heard some variation of a few hundred times over. Regardless, I wanted to check it out, in part because I want to step out of my comfort zone, so to speak, and because I realize it is a film that’s accessibility will be more readily available encase any of you want to see it for yourself.
Warning: Do Not Play is a mystery horror film about a woman named Park Mi-jung. Park is a rookie film director, whose been sitting on her laurels the last few years, and needs to make something new. Both, because she wants to, and because she needs to in order to keep her job. In preparation, she hears about a film banned eight years ago because of the mystery shrouding it. According to the director, Kim Jae-hyun, he did not even create the short film, but, instead, it was a videotape created by a ghost, showing his crewmembers massacred. Park meets Kim, and in spite his efforts to dissuade her, continues to prod at the mystery surrounding the film, evoking the horrors hidden within.
When I spoke to someone else about the film, explaining the synopsis to them, they responded with, “So, it’s The Ring?” And, although there are similarities, it really isn’t. This does not necessarily mean it isn’t other things, however.
Our protagonist Park Mi-jung leads the film, digging deeper where she can, by whatever means she can. I had read a little about the director prior, merely because I was afraid I would not have enough to say about this film to justify an actual writeup, and saw the parallels to himself and his protagonist. Kim Jin-won directed a blood-soaked horror film called The Butcher, which drew attention and ire, (it’s about the making of a fictional snuff film from the makers’ perspective and the victims – and it’s now in my queue) but, after that, it was zilch and nada feature film wise til Warning: Do Not Play came out over a decade later. Kind of a neat symmetry to have a film about a film director in a dry spell by a filmmaker in a dry spell. So too does it make you think about it as a commentary on the self-destructive and obsessive tendencies the creation of art can provoke.
The film’s dialogue feels written by an individual who has a lot of affection for filmmaking, if, at times, feeling like it is name-dropping for the sake of it. Although it is curious to hear names like Christopher Nolan mentioned in a South Korean film, almost like, sometimes, there is this barrier between Asian and western filmmaking, and, thus, it is interesting to see someone peek out behind that metaphorical curtain.
Warning: Do Not Play does not offer a lot in terms of characterizations, clocking out shy of the 90 minute mark, it offers little above the minimum in development in either its characters or the premise it has laid out. While it is not a ripoff of The Ring, it does feel very familiar and evoke comparisons to a lot of other films – be it the Blair Witch Project or other films in the supernatural genre.
The scares are, at best, intriguing, and, at worst, not effective. Similar to other Asian horrors, the film sees a ghostly figure appear every now and again to the chagrin of its protagonist. However, it feels so distant and not there, static-y and CG-manipulated, and, in a way, that feels pasted on. Maybe that was a stylistic decision because the themes about film, but, that feels like a weightless argument for what I feel was a misaligned attempt at one of the simplest, most cliched of scares.
Towards the end of the film, our protagonist is walking through a theater and the film goes a little bonkers with the CG-effects, where I had little to no idea what was happening on the screen. It sounds derogatory, and if Readers Digested were some ritzy academic film study, maybe it would be, but I liked this part the best of the film. It had an ethereal / abstract quality to it, and even if it was a little messy, it broke convention for a film that was otherwise very conventional and standard.
There is a scene where, on the screen of the film projector, there is a noose, right? And while Park’s back is turned, the noose lassos out from the screen and grabs her! Honestly, everything in that sequence overloaded me and I am not even sure if that was what actually happened. But, if it was, that was a cool shot.
Warning: Do Not Watch is not a film I would particularly recommend. Although there’re redeeming qualities in its production, it abides by a lot of cliches and standards of the genre. Even when I hadn’t, I felt like I had already seen the film prior, and it was only when the film started to fall apart at the seams, I could see a glimmer of inspiration shine through.