K-drama Rose Mansion: Lim Ji-yeon stars in apartment-set mystery-horror, which trades story for gratuitous sleaze and violence
- Rose Mansion, set in a residential block in Seoul, follows a hotel worker who discovers bloodstains on the floor when she visits her father’s flat
- The uncomfortable outbursts and displays of pointless violence are compounded by the lack of storyline
An apartment block in Seoul becomes a site of fear, violence and mystery in the new Tving streaming series Rose Mansion, the first small-screen effort from established film director Yoon Hong-seung (The Target), who goes by the pseudonym Chang.
Lim Ji-yeon (Luck-Key) leads the story as a hotel worker in Busan who returns to her father’s apartment in Seoul when her sister goes missing. With shifty characters lurking around every corner of the neighbourhood, it doesn’t take long for her to begin suspecting foul play.
While Western horror tales are dominated by haunted houses, in South Korea it is the block of flats that reigns supreme. Supernatural stories set in homes often revolve around dark family secrets that manifest themselves in horrific ways, but Korean apartment horrors are generally more concerned with the danger that lies just outside the door than within.
What all these stories also share in common is a disdain for the selfish and insular communities that apartment blocks can create.
In the case of Lim’s protagonist Song Ji-na, the individual and communal threats are combined. She believes that someone nearby has abducted her sister but truculent neighbours, fearing the drop in housing prices a scandal might cause, are far from sympathetic.
This combination of the existential threat of violence, particularly for women, and the tense social tapestry of modern-day flat-dwelling in Korea is an interesting one. But if first impressions are anything to go by, Rose Mansion might be more interested in the evocation of gratuitous violence than in any kind of commentary about where it comes from.
In the opening scene, which may prove very shocking for casual drama viewers, a couple get hot and heavy in the bedroom until someone tries to enter the code to their flat. After several failed attempts, the door unlocks, and in comes Lee Woo-hyuk (Jo Dal-hwan) with a demented gleam in his eye. He proceeds to butcher the couple in the apartment, which is swiftly painted in crimson arterial spray.
The story then moves to the relative calm of Busan, where Song attempts to put out customer temper tantrums at a very swanky hotel. She’s seeing someone there who at first glance appears very untrustworthy – a suspicion that will prove to be well founded.
Before long, a call comes from her father with the news that her sister is missing. After getting some time off work she hops on the train to Seoul and makes her way to her father’s apartment in the incongruously named Rose Mansion, a slightly old and rundown complex populated with an array of oddballs and antisocial miscreants.
When she arrives, rather than her father, what she finds are bloodstains on the floor, which lead to the shocking discovery of a hanging body in the veranda. Upon closer inspection, it’s actually a mannequin that is stringed up. More curious still, it’s wearing the same dress as Song.
A disturbed Song calls the police but they don’t seem to be taking the missing person’s case seriously. Nevertheless, the young detective Park Min-soo (Yoon Kyun-sang) does investigate and after some initial hesitancy, he starts to dig into the case properly – although that may have more to do with his clear attraction to Song than anything else.
What follows is a grimy tale full of masturbating perverts and dead cats that spends more time wallowing in vulgarity than pushing its narrative forward. Case in point, in one scene we get a good long look at the grotesquely masticated food in Lee’s mouth even before it gets smeared all over his face, the floor and a window pane during an altercation in his van.
Rose Mansion takes place in a universe that is dominated by crazy women and cheap sleaze. A friendly hacker working for the police works out of a love motel, which sets up some tawdry jokes when Song and detective Park walk in together. His room is adorned with lewd pin-up posters, while in a local store the odious owner watches porn on his tablet when he isn’t grossly propositioning women in real life.
Song loses her cool at one point because of a loud lover’s tiff upstairs and after banging on the door and screaming at the man, the woman comes out and out-screams her, accusing her of being one of her husband’s lovers.
These uncomfortable outbursts and displays of pointless violence, which also include repeatedly stabbing a cat and force-feeding its flesh to a fish, have a cumulative effect of being sickening and exhausting. Meanwhile, the story has yet to go anywhere interesting.
Mercifully, Rose Mansion has only 12 short episodes, which are being released each week in batches of four, so at the very least we won’t be subjected to this torpid nightmare for too long.
Rose Mansion is streaming on Viu.