Monday, September 20, 2004

Throw away that damn phone!

The premise for Phone is simple. Cell phone rings. Someone dies. Exactly why, we’re not so sure.

While the cell phone, admittedly today’s modern device of choice, plays a central role in linking the storyline of this movie, it’s easy to get confused initially if you don’t follow the plot close enough.

The storyline of this film by Toilet Pictures (no kidding!) is not particularly original, but it takes a familiar premise and re-invents it to a reasonable degree of success. This South Korean production came under such obvious influence of the Japanese horror movie, The Ring (which has reached almost cult status), that you’ll see plenty of inspiration drawn from it. In fact, the dishevelled “Sadako look” is fast becoming as much of a cliché in Asian horror movies as the impossible-to-kill masked killer of Western slasher pictures. And although the idea of an inanimate object being used for supernatural purposes by some otherworldly being is hardly novel, its text and voice messaging functions have been put to use in a rather more inspired manner here.

Still, Phone starts off predictably. The female protagonist, an investigative journalist named Ji-won (Ha Ji-won), has embroiled herself in reporting a series of underage sex scandals to the point where she constantly receives threatening phone calls. As a result, Ji-won is forced to change to a new cell phone number. However, she soon realises that the previous subscribers of this phone number have all died under mysterious circumstances. They include a young woman in the opening scene whose death in a stalled lift sets off the whole chain of events.

From this point onward, the film sways back and forth between a series of scenes aimed at delivering shock value (though a few fell flat because they’re so formulaic) before slowly unravelling the incidents and motivations behind the phone calls. Overall, the scares are fairly mild and the stalker element is perhaps the weakest link in the movie.

Deserving mention is the child actress, Eun Seo-woo, who puts in a decent debut performance as a possessed daughter, reminiscent of Linda Blair’s Regan in The Exorcist. Some, however, may find her portrayal of a possessed girl (such as the screwing up of her face to display a demonic expression) as being too forced at times.

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