Korean director Yong-ki Jeong takes a refreshing departure from the usual ghost movie to create a film which, for better or worse depending on opinion, drops all the cultural clichés to produce a movie which feels quite western in terms of its content and pace.
'The Doll Master' begins in the past where a man, a doll maker, is accused of murdering his wife. Once convicted the locals take the law into their own hands and beat the guy to death. The false justice was witnessed by a life sized replica doll of his late wife who eerily waits patiently by his shallow grave. Once the story gets going we see a group of 'doll-models' who answer the advertisement to have themselves the basis for more weird ass life-sized dolls. One by one they begin to drop dead, indicating that their arrangement is not quite as it seems.
The plot of the movie is pretty intriguing to begin with, and a good effective use of the creepy dolls oddly posed in the various rooms in an eerie country old-style mansion begins to create an unnerving atmosphere. As the story gets going it becomes apparent that it is going to be a little more gruesome than your average counterpart with some good bloody moments and mild gore effects employed whenever the doll strikes. Don't get me wrong, its nothing hardcore, but for an Asian chiller it was a welcome addition. From the scares point of view, well, it depends whether or not the proximity of mannequins bother you. If they do then there is going to be a few poo-time moments, if not, well I can't really imagine that this movie will effect you too much as the scares are a little more sustained than they are jumpy.
Sadly after a relatively promising start the movie begins to pull at the seams a little. You soon realise, that despite a mysterious start, the story begins to become a little linear, and only serves to confuse, as it tries to stretch the mystery beyond its substance, turning some of the potentially revealing scenes into ones which are just a little confusing. It is such scenes which kills the atmosphere meaning that for, say the last 40 minutes, the movie has lost all its creepy elements and its all about story telling. The overall story isn't bad but there are some careless plot holes, and you realise that a lot of the confusion wasn't due to your misunderstanding, more that the story was poorly articulated.
The characters too were a little underdeveloped. Nothing worse than in cheesy US slashers, but still, the reliance on your empathy for some of the characters warranted a little more development than what you got, as, save for one girl who gets killed off pretty sharpish, and the main character, who you only learn a back story for when it is essential to explain one of the bits you would have been confused about, the other characters barely get more than a name put to them.
Overall, 'The Doll Master' is a good enough watch, but in my opinion, owing to some of the films own merits at the start, really failed to reach it's potential. It had all the markings of a strong chiller in terms of content and locations, however, a poorly constructed plot lets it down and kills off all the atmosphere it creates at the beginning of the movie. If mannequins scare you, and that gets you off, then give it a go, for everyone else, its only for the intrigued.