Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Call Me

Having lived a year in the land of the morning calm, I can confidently say that the only people I trust to make a film about a killer phone are Koreans. When I was there in 2005--back when the iPhone was a mere fantasy of dystopian literature--phones were STILL equipped with what can only be described as magic (or aps before they were aps). All mine had was a spectacular ringtone, but friends’ LGs included horoscope updates and breathalyzers.

Naturally, I’d go east for a serial killing cell movie.
Quick Plot: Sassy reporter Ji-won starts receiving mysteriously menacing messages on her second-hand cell phone, perhaps as a result of her recently published controversial story on sex offenders. Her sister and brother-in-law invite Ji-won to stay at their isolated country home but once there, the calls continue while the couple’s perfectly adorable daughter, Yeong-ju, becomes a bad seed fueled by a sudden lust for daddy.

Also, there’s lots of sudden shots of long-haired Asian females staring maniacally. 
Like many a Korean horror film made in the 21st century, Phone is a) a tad derivative b) occasionally creepy c) well-acted d) hard to see and e) too long. That being said, it does have a few tricks that make it worthwhile, some of which stems from the very concept of evil embodied by a cell phone.
Far more interesting, however, is Yeong-ju’s descent into wacked out kindergartner. Had anybody told me Phone featured a horny, scratching and screeching 6 year old, I of course would have made a place for it in February’s Month of the Vertically Challenged Villains but alas, this film hedged its marketing in its cellular premise. Yeong-ju’s outbursts are actually quite fun, an odd shifting seesaw between genuinely creepy and hilariously over the top. It helps immensely that one of the first scenes of the film features an extended conversation about how Ji-won’s sister has The Most Perfect Family Ever. By ten minutes in, we WANT daddy to turn to Jack Torrence, daughter to pull an Orphan and mother to drink it all away with a soju growler.
High Points
Phone doesn’t shy away from its Electra complex, something that’s not necessarily easy to watch but ultimately entertaining enough to justify its inappropriateness

Low Points
At about 100 minutes, Phone isn’t overly lengthy but considering the repetitive K-ghost scares and empty red herrings, the running length does harm the ultimate throughline of the story
Lessons Learned
No one commits suicide in an elevator
In death, your hair will grow to appropriate J-horror ghostess lengths

Tolstoy may have claimed that all happy families are alike, but clearly he never flew to Seoul and met The Perfect Family and its Possessed And Horny Daughter
Phone is streaming on Netflix, which is about the amount of effort you should put into seeing it. Diehard Asian horror fans will find a nice balance of the conventional genre with a few surprises, but overall, Phone isn’t really worth, you know, phoning home about.
That was bad, let me try again: don’t waste peak time minutes on Phone.
Okay. I can do better: Phone will receive good reception if--
Oh hell I got nothing. Can’t we just go back to tin cans and call it a day? Better yet, how about I just transfer you to New Korean Cinema's Blogathon, a great resource with several more days filled with Internet writing on all things Korean cinema (and most likely, far fewer cell phone puns).


  1. I've grown tired of Asian horror and haven't checked out anything new in about two years. Needless to say, I'm tapped out.

    Although I really want to check out I Saw The Devil.

  2. There's certainly still good stuff out there, it's just so easy to feel like you've seen some of these films before. I've heard some great things about I Saw the Devil, so let me know when you see it!

  3. I remember watching this one back when it came out. As Rufus (from the VCinema podcast! Plug!) tends to point out, Korea isn't the best place for horror, hahaha. The remake of Ringu wasn't bad from what I remember though.

    I really liked I Saw the Devil, although it has been receiving a split-reaction from people. I also wouldn't call it much of a horror title. Only if you consider Se7en as "horror".

  4. Good point. There's some truly great cinema coming out of Korea and a lot of it is genre related, just not necessary straight horror. I don't think I knew there was Korean version of Ringu!

    Hm. I personally would consider Se7en horror. Sure, it's also part detective story, but I'd put it in the same category as Silence of the Lambs. It's horror, people just don't want to admit it since it has Oscar winners in it.