With the releases of Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance coming from Tartan, the rest of the "Asia Extreme" collection seemed about as daring and interesting as Mr. Rogers visiting a balloon factory. Disappointing titles like Sorum, Whispering Corridors and Memento Mori gave the collection a bad name early on, and it would take nothing short of a miracle to convince audiences to go out and spend money on Tartan imports. But along comes this obscure film from Korea called Acacia, which despite featuring the same "creepy kid" approach as the lot of ghost flicks, still had a certain appeal to it. The appeal? No one has said a word about the film since its R3 release from Korea.
Already bent over from taking one for the team with Sorum, I figured "what the hell?" and gave Acacia it's 100 minutes to impress me. Like a prisoner awaiting the guard with the splintered nightstick, I hunkered down for what I expected to be a ridiculously painful experience. What arose from the ashes of Tartan's Asia Extreme pile of rubbish in the corner of my den was not only an incredible film, but perhaps the Phoenix this collection needs to resurrect its credibility.
After a decade of infertility within their marriage, Do-il and Mi-Sook decide to adopt a child. Visiting the orphanage, Mi-Sook decides to adopt the most artistic child in the lot. However, the boy, Jin-sung, is a bit of a recluse that has a strange affinity for trees, in both his paintings and real life. When brought back to the family home, Jin-sung immediately takes a liking to the dying acacia tree in the backyard and spends most of his days either coddling the tree or depicting it in his drawings. Doing all that they can to provide the child with a stable environment, Mi-sook and Do-il shower the boy with love and attention, attempting to nurture him almost as much as he does the acacia tree.
Miraculously, Mi-sook becomes pregnant after mere months of adopting Jin-sung and the newfound baby draws more attention than the adopted boy. This makes Jin-sung even more detached from his new family and more inclined to spend every waking hour with the acacia tree. Feeling rejected by his foster parents, Jin-sung does whatever he can to attract attention, from setting his grandfather's shed on fire to suffocating his newborn brother. The family reacts in a very derogatory manner and one night Jin-sung just disappears. Alas, the boy's disappearance was just a boon for calamity as each of the family members suffer some form of ailment, whether it be physical or mental.
Even with its periodic lulls within the storyline, Acacia manages to keep the audience's attention with a great deal of character exploration. The transformations of both Do-il and Mi-sook are incredible to watch unfold as their once stable family life becomes that of something out of a domestic abuse case on "Cops". Despite the film's "soft" R rating for violence and language, the intense rape scene and levels of mental abuse came as a complete shock during the wind down of the film. And of course, every asian horror must have its "twist" ending, however, Acacia's is more of a tie-in description for the plot. Believe me, audiences will not be disappointed with the final 15 minutes of the film.
The achilles heel of Tartan's Asia Extreme collection (other than the actual titles!) has been its reluctance to include worthwhile extras. Acacia is no exception, containing a "making of" featurette, cast & director commentaries and the always stale photo gallery.
Overall, though, the film is solid enough to warrant a purchase of the R1 disc. I haven't been so inclined to get a copy of the R3 release, but my money is on the Korean version for having a plethora of extras to support Acacia's astounding presence.