Downward dog will steal your soul: “Yoga”

October 14, 2012

The Korean horror movie Yoga (its Korean title translates to Yoga Institute) tells a fairly simple cautionary tale about the perils of holding onto youth and beauty at any cost. This could easily be the setup for a clump of lukewarm clichés—and it does traffic in a few—but it manages to distinguish itself by putting a fairly probing sense of spirituality around the corners of the action. Oh, and it features mind-bendingly beautiful women doing yoga, so, yeah, I’m in. I mean, I can stand some black ooze and, hey, even throw in some creepy ghost-kids if you want, just as long as you pepper it with scenes of Korean girl-pop star Eugene doing downward dog in a half-shirt and yoga pants. I’m not the most discerning movie critic.

Eugene plays Hyo-Jung, the hostess of a home-shopping show whose position is being threatened by a younger, cuter model. Okay, this is the movie’s first flight of fancy. I mean, does this seem over-the-hill?

Time to put her out to pasture, right?

Right. But that’s the world Yoga takes place within. It’s a brutally-competitive world filled with wave after wave of younger, more statuesque beauties, who make any actress or TV personality instantly disposable, regardless of her (and, yes, it’s always a her) talent or ability. You’re just a face, and there’s always a prettier one. Now, this is a pretty good deal if you’re a dude, but the women of this world are all facing instant extinction, and in desperation they are attracted to something sinister.

Let’s just look at this again.

That something is an underground Kundalini yoga institute run by Khan, a mysterious, reclusive movie star, who disappeared after being unceremoniously thrown-over by her leading director in 1978. The studio is a bleak, threatening place that, honestly, looks more like a catacomb or sacrificial temple or a locked wing in Dick Cheney’s mansion than it does a place to center your body and soul—or whatever you get from yoga.

Really, there’s no way to get too much of this.

Presiding over this candle-lit horror house is an ethereally-beautiful woman named Nani (Cha Se-Yuon), who lays down some Fight Club-type rules: 1) No mirrors; 2) no contact with the outside world; 3) No bathing within an hour after exercising; 4) no unauthorized eating; 5) no disclosing the regiment to anyone not in the program. Now, all this seems batshit crazy to me, but coming from Nani, anything seems reasonable.

“My bank account log on? Its DanielCraigisgod123…can I clean your apartment now?”

So, the women begin the week long program, and, predictably enough, things start to get bizarre. Each of the women has their own faults and foibles, and they mostly bring them up against one of the rules. There’s also a strain of competition built into the program, as only one of them can be chosen to shared the Kundalini spiritual transcendence that the mysterious actress has attained.

One-by-one, the women transgress and are punished. One takes a shower immediately after class and is murdered by her shower (literally, she is attacked by it—curtain and everything). Another succumbs to hunger (and her body issues) to grotesque (but predictable) effect. In the meantime, Hyo-Jung is tormented by visions and nightmares that seem to be manifestations of her own spiritual bankruptcy.

This is all intercut with the events of Khan’s last day on set, which…well, they don’t exactly add up to much, and I kinda suspect they just exist to pad out the running time. Plus, there are no hawt chicks doing yoga, so, really, why?

If “Battlefield Earth” had more of this it would have made more money than “Avatar” and “Titanic” combined.

The end of the movie goes balls to the wall with the weirdness, throwing weirdness after weirdness at us. We get snakes crawling out of eye-sockets, mummified bodies, and yoga poses that entail hips being swiveled 360 degrees. Finally, Hyo-Jung realizes that Khan is something older and more evil than just a spurned actress, and she uses the vanity of her yoga practitioners enter the world. I think. I’m not terribly clear on that part. Nani is her prisoner, perpetually-tormented by Khan’s timeless beauty.

Like most movies of this stripe, Hyo-Jung only thinks she’s escaped Khan’s clutches. The final scene makes it clear that her emptiness has been Khan’s vessel to return to the world. And she shows up in a lot of subway ads. I assume that’s just a warm-up before the real horror begins. I really hope it entails a lot more hawt chicks doing yoga.

I think my nervous system just exploded.

So, yeah, Yoga is pretty much your standard Asian-horror fare. I’m sure a lot got lost in the language and cultural divide, but it trades heavily on spirituality in a way that the inevitable American remake certainly won’t. Still, it’s got some low-level creepiness going on, plus…hawt chicks doing yoga.

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