YOGA (2009) review

Never forget that “beauty comes at a great price.” In this funky little Korean horror flick from Whispering Corridors 3: Wishing Stairs director Yoon Jae Yeon, pretty home shopping channel host Kim Hyo-Jung (Yoo Jin ‘Eugene’ Kim) gets unceremoniously demoted after a more youthful beauty queen co-host outshines her on air. Desperate to regain her former position she takes the advice of a recently rejuvenated old school chum and enrolls at a super-secret Yoga Institute that promises to remake its students to “beautiful perfection” during one very intensive week-long training session. This place is so terribly secret that they don’t even believe in signage, for only “those destined to come will find their way.”

The school’s exquisitely lovely yoga master Na-ni (Su-yeon Cha) first has Hyo-Jung and her four fellow students relinquish their cell phones, as contact with the outside is a no-no, and then outlines the academy’s four strict training rules: 1) unauthorized eating is forbidden, 2) no baths or showers may be taken within an hour after training, 3) no looking at mirrors, and 4) one must never speak of the program to anyone in the outside world. At the end of training the students may be allowed the honor of meeting the Academy’s owner, Kahn Mi-hi, a once-famous actress renowned for her beautiful and continued youthful appearance.

There’s something odd about this yoga academy owned by a beautiful actress who never seems to age…

The rigorous yoga classes begin immediately, and it’s not long before the required fasting and the creepy surroundings of the school cause weird reactions among the women. They start to hallucinate during training sessions and begin to balk at the restrictions placed upon them. Weight-obsessed In-soon (Eun-ji Jo) starts suffering from rabid cravings for food after hours, famous actress Yeon-ju can’t suffer being denied her own reflection, nor can the repressed Bo-ra avoid mirrors, and plastic surgery addict Yu-kyung gets the creepy-crawlies and heads for the showers a bit too early. Even Hyo-Jung sneaks a peek at a forbidden cell phone that she’s hidden in her locker. Unfortunately, at this academy breaking the rules elicits the strictest of punishments. Misbehaving students disappear one by one in nicely nasty ways until the last day when only Hyo-Jung remains, and she alone meets the mysterious actress Kahn Mi-hi and receives the terrible “secret of the Kundalini.” And after watching what happens next I’m kind of glad that I could never completely master the Salamba Sirsasana!

YOGA gets points for atmosphere and suspense and manages to elicit a few decent chills right up until the last half hour, when everything gets rather weird and confusing and stops making much sense. The biggest problem was that I couldn’t really tell if the ending was supposed to be real or was just another hallucination of the main character. I can’t even put the less-than-satisfactory ending down to being lost in the translated subtitles of the version I saw on Netflix, as the final few scenes of the movie were practically wordless! A side plot concerning Hyo-Jung’s boyfriend and his research into classic film including the 1978 movie starring the academy’s owner added a little to the scanty story, but didn’t really help explain things all that much. It seemed as if the script had a lot of good ideas that simply got lost in the rewrites, and many loose ends that could have been tied up more neatly with just a couple of more revisions.

Regardless, YOGA is an interesting little horror romp with appealing and lithe young actresses and some spooky east Asian haunted-house moments. Although the characters do get dispatched pretty regularly (with In-soon’s demise being the longest, most inventive and the ickiest), there are only a few really bloody scenes, so it’s not a overly gruesome slasher flick. I’d say it’s worth an afternoon’s viewing simply for the unique setting and the enthusiasm of the production.

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