Yun-hee (Ahn Jo) is a writer under pressure from her editor to pen another book. She had some success with a semi-autobiographical novel titled Secrets and Lies three years prior, but nothing since. Yun-hee receives a phone call from her old friend Seo-yeon (Cha Ye-ryeon) about the legend of a young woman named Muoi and her supposed curse. Years ago Yun-hee, Seo-yeon and two other teens were classmates growing up in Vietnam. Yun-hee said some very nasty things about Seo-yeon in her book, but doesn’t think Seo-yeon has read it.
Yun-hee is met at the airport in Vietnam by Seo-yeon and all seems well. They spend the night in a haunted hotel room before heading to Seo-yeon’s home; they then delve into the one-hundred-year-old legend of Muoi.
Muoi met a painter who came to her village. He began painting her portrait and the two fell in love. Unfortunately he was already married to a wealthy woman who heard all about his love for the young woman. The woman, seeking revenge, arrives in Muoi’s village with a group of goons. They beat Muoi mercilessly, breaking her leg. The woman then throws a bottle of acid into Muoi’s face, scarring her forever. Unable to face her lover, Muoi commits suicide, dying in a fit of anger and birthing the curse. Her spirit is then trapped in the unfinished portrait and kept in a temple. Years later during the war, Japanese soldiers loot the temple and release Muoi’s spirit to carry out her curse.
Now, Yun-hee begins her own research into the legend, including “borrowing” some material from Seo-yeon’s boss, a professor of Vietnamese folklore who became obsessed with Muoi’s curse. Unfortunately for Yun-hee, she discovers that the curse is all too real….and that Seo-yeon wants to do more than help her old friend write a book.
Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait was the first horror film to go into production in Vietnam since the fall of Saigon, but due to delays caused by the Bureau of Cinema the movie ended up being released as the second in the genre. It’s a well-done film with a pretty solid story. While it deals with the typical female ghost seeking revenge, the movie is more about betrayal between friends and those that we trust—and the betrayal between the four teens is incredibly vicious. The characters are believable and likeable, for the most part. The special effects are very good, although I found an early scene in a haunted hotel room unnecessary; it added nothing to the story and felt like its only purpose was to add some more visual effects. Overall, however, I think Muoi is an excellent example of Asian horror and I do recommend it.