Since this Korean film is based on a Vietnamese legend, it seems only fitting to take a moment and talk about folktales and legends. Russian Vladimir Propp wrote a book titled Morphology of the Folktale in which he laid out the 31 functions and possible narrative tracks for folktales. We all know that tales were all originally orally passed down. Once they began getting put to paper, they were easier to analyze and that’s exactly what Mr. Propp did.
He determined there were two basic structures for folktales. The first one he referred to as an Exemplar or Syntagmatic which was told in chronological order. The second was called paradigmatic and it was more a sequence of events regrouped in schemas and not usually in chronological order. I could list all 31 of his functions, but that info is easily searched for online. I’ like to talk about how his list of characters fits the film Muoi.
Propp listed 7 character types appearing in folktales. They’re kind of the same as archetypes, but a little different in nature. First there’s the Villain. In Muoi that’s a little more complicated than you might think. I mean is the villain the ghost with the revenge grudge or the girl who’s asking for the curse to take place? Or is it the girl who writes horrible things about a “friend” because she believed rumors and ended up causing this friend grief? See what I mean?
The second character type is the Dispatcher. In this film that would be the main character’s two friends who send her off to Vietnam to find a story to write about from the girl the two had a hand in torturing. Third is a Magic Helper. That would be the half Korean/half Vietnamese girl who assists the main character in her efforts to discover what’s going on with the ghost and her friend. Fourth is The Princess (or in this case The Prince) would be the character of Ji-hoon who is the handsome guy that turns on the girl who wants him and actually films her being raped in an act that he set up. This also parallels Muoi’s own story about her love who had a fiancé that disfigured her face with acid causing her to kill herself so that she could become a grudge ghost.
Fifth is the Donor who gives an object to the hero for help. That would be the monk who gives a magic object to assist in destroying Muoi’s ghost. Sixth is the hero or in this case a kind of Victim/seeker hero. That’s our main character trying to get a story to write. Finally we have the false hero. That’s also our main character, but it’s only after she screws up and releases the ghost and the curse and becomes the carrier of the Muoi’s curse to others, thus making her a false hero and now the Villain for the cycle to continue.
All in all this beautifully filmed Korean scary story fits the folktale character checklist to a T. It doesn’t really break any new ground, but it is interesting and definitely has a background tale just as interesting. Well worth a view.
Click HERE to read Morphology of the Folktale by Vladimir Propp.