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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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   Phone, The  


The Phone

Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei

Director: Ahn Byung-ki
Cast: Ha Ji-won, Kim Yoo-mi, Choi Woo-jae
Genre: Horror
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
Year Released: 2002
Running Time: 102 min
Rating: ** (out of four stars)

The Phone is Korea’s answer to Nakata Hideo’s The Ring - it also involves a phone, albeit a mobile phone this time, and again stars a central female character trying to get to the bottom of the mystery. The Phone is at best a mishmash of previous Asian horror films, and if one were to look at it critically, it is a film that not only falls into the cliches of the Asian Horror Film, but also one that is tainted by Cheap Asian Melodrama in the final reel. Consisting of very few genuinely scary moments, Phone is redeemed partially by a very chilling performance by child actor Eun Seo-wu, who matches Linda Blair’s performance in The Exorcist.

Journalist Ji-won (Ha Ji-won) is in trouble. After blowing the lid off a sex scandal in Korea, the men involved are after her, making nuisance calls and even stalking her around. Ji-won decides to change her phone number, but once her number is changed strange things start happening. After telling her best friend Ho-jeong (Kim Yu-mi) about it, Ho-jeong decides to let Ji-won housesit her other house in a remote part of Seoul. However, strange things continue to occur, and it seems attributable to her new phone number. Her interest piqued, Ji-won decides to investigate the matter, and of course, things are never quite as they seem.

At the same time, Ho-jeong’s daughter Young-ju seems to become possessed by a malevolent ghost after playing with Ji-won’s phone - she starts behaving in an erratic, violent manner, and seems to develop a sexual desire for her father, Chang Hoon (Choi Woo-jae). The worse thing is, the more Ji-won uncovers in her investigations, the more pronounced Young-ju’s condition becomes. Soon, Ji-won realizes that there may be a reason behind why Young-ju was possessed, but to uncover the secret may mean that her own life is jeopardized as well.

One big flaw of The Phone is its plot. Sprawling with many subplots, none of them given a proper treatment, and rambling randomly from subplot to subplot, the film is a narrative mess. It doesn’t help that the film also OD’s on red herrings, and is yet so very obvious to almost anyone that has watched a least a few movies of the genre. In short, the audience’s intelligence is insulted - a big no-no for genre films like this one. The film is also not that scary, barring a few ‘boo!’ moments here and there. In fact, the running time of 100 minutes feels just a bit too long, and the last 20 minutes feels especially interminable. Director Ahn Byung-ki also makes the error of leaving nothing to the imagination - he sees a need to portray and explain everything, and this method particularly fails him after the mystery is solved in the final reel.

The one redeeming point in The Phone is Eun Seo-wu, who has really scary-looking eyes, and portrays a possessed child with tremendous aplomb. Her performance in the film is definitely one of the most chilling ones in recent celluloid history. However, Eun Seo Wu is also made to do several sequences in the film that can be deemed rather indecent for a child. This does raise an interesting question - is it right to expose a child actor to the less savory side of filmmaking so soon? Ethics aside, Seo Wu’s performance is the high point of the film, but this alone does not make Phone a worthwhile movie to watch.

Final Word: Bog-standard Asian horror film, with a painfully drawn out denouement.