This South Korean creeper is part gore fest, part romance, part ghost story, and all confusing. Most of it takes place in a hospital during the 1942 Japanese occupation of Seoul. A young intern (who we meet as a lonely old man during present-day bookend sequences) is having trouble adjusting to hospital life. He can’t stand the sight of blood, his supervisor is giving him grief, and he seems to have fallen for an adorable young corpse. His story is told alongside that of a rather terrified young girl who is having hallucinations and screaming a lot, while dealing with the aftermath of a car accident. Then there is a Japanese soldier who is murdered; this story is independent of the other two, but all three tales take place at the same time in the same place.
Beyond that, I am really having trouble telling you all what this movie is about. The story is essentially incomprehensible. Call it something lost in translation, call it a failure of scripting or editing, or call it a puzzle film with ill-fitting pieces, but a plot summary in this case is futile.
That said, I can tell you that there is some lovely cinematography, a few bits of macabre oddness, a collection of cool digital effects, a handful of attractive women, a lot of stabbing with scalpels, a convincing period setting, a few shocks, some surrealistic dream-like bits, a fair bit of blood, tons of shrieking, a decent amount of snow (of both the white and the red-stained varieties), a few insane people, and an atmospheric score (except for a bit that swipes the criminally overused shower murder cue from “Psycho”). All of it looks fantastic.
The film seems ambitious, but if the intent of first-time directors Jung Sik and Jung Beom-sik were to provide a clear narrative, then the film is a failure. Also, character moments need to be strong enough to maintain momentum between the scenes of gore or the eye candy of the dream sequences, but they are not. Most of the actors (except for the screaming ones) behave as props, set up to for the admittedly memorable images that they are a part of. Themes of love, loss, death, and ghosts are present in all three intertwining stories. But as filmed in “Epitaph,” these broad and universal topics don’t have enough human drama behind them to tie the three uncompelling stories together, at least not strongly enough to make this great-looking film a complete experience.