Korean Ring-alike ghost story, slick but of no real threat to your underwear.

Released in 2002, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 28 Aug 2004 by Scott Morris
Phone image

"Somebody answer the phone", advised Mario Piu in seminal 90's commercial pap-dance classic Communication. It would be wise to ignore that advice if you happen to be starring in this Korean horror flick, the latest obscurity granted a moment in the multiplex sun by Tartan's second Asia Extreme season. Even the company credits are trying to throw you off balance, the common Buena Vista distributors logo looking oddly alien with Korean text underneath it before giving way to a crashing, stormy seascape with 'Toilet Pictures' emblazoned on it. Any film made by a company called Toilet Pictures is going to have an uphill credibility battle, but Phone ends up being about as good as most horror movies regardless of providence.

However, "as good as most horror movies" will probably serve as a warning to anyone foolish enough to have been following this site's witterings for any length of time. There seems to be a certain mindset needed to appreciate the bulk of most schlock horror output, from Wrong Turn to The Blair Witch Project, Gothika to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - there's a great deal more misses than hits in our humble and quite clearly correct view. Even the few that do manage to create something truly memorable such as Tetsuo: The Iron Man are relying on abstract and shocking imagery rather than anything 'clever'. The most critically lauded horror film of recent times, Nakata's Ring managed to do something remarkable by, well, being a good film. A good idea, decent storyline, a pinch of suspense and critically some tremendous sound design that serves as a good buildup to being completely weirded out by it's ending. It's spawned a flare of interest in Asian horror films and a slew of imitators, and while it's a lazy description Phone is just another one of them.

Admittedly it's hardly the same film with haunted videos swapped with haunted mobile phones, but every thing over and above Ring's basic premise is lifted from some other horror franchise, and it often leaves Phone feeling like an admittedly slickly produced homage to the genre as a whole rather than something trying to be memorable and outstanding in the field. In a fit of suitably Extreme, although perhaps not Asian laziness I'm going to lift the synopsis straight from the Tartan website. 'Ji-won (Ji-won Ha), a magazine reporter, decides to change her cell phone number after her controversial article is published resulting in a string of menacing phone calls. After changing her number, Ji-won's friend's daughter, Yeong-ju (Seo-woo Eun), innocently answers her phone. Young-ju starts to act strangely after being obviously frightened by the call. When Ji-won investigates the past owners of her new cell phone number an astonishing secret is unraveled.'

Phone image

Frankly I've given up doing synopsii for horror flicks because it's invariably the barest set up for orchestral crash jump shenanigans and something supernatural taking over something/someone looking for revenge or uncovering some long hidden mystery. Given that in Ring, a reporter uncovers the 'astonishing secret' of a murder no prizes for guessing what the last sentence of the press blurb refers to. I generally shy away from dismissing anything as a clone of any other film, but it's pretty clear where this script's inspiration came from. While what is eventually revealed to no-ones great surprise as the possession of Yeong-ju is only one projectile vomit away from The Exorcist, it's forgiven by Seo-woo Eun's intense and intensely creepy performance which is the movies only real trump card. To get such a tremendous performance from such a young actress is a mark of talent on both Seo-woo Eun and director Byeong-ki Ahn's part, and in itself almost worth the ticket price.

Everything else, less so. With some essentially random flashbacks dropped in for that ever so trendy and ever so despised non-linear narrative kick, most of the movies non-freaky kid related jumpy bits come from the tried and trusted silence / loud noise technique, and it's in this aspect it should really have been lifting ideas from it's contemporaries. Instead it's just a continual audio irritation, weather the indescribably grating and annoying ring that the titular phone makes is a side effect of a projectionist with the knob accidentally cranked up to eleven or a deliberate stylistic choice akin to fingernails scratching a blackboard it's difficult to say, and much of a moot point. It's annoying, and that's about all there is to it.

Phone is a decent horror film, despite the negative tone I've taken. If you aren't adverse to reading subtitles it's certainly superior to the bulk of the Hollywood horror drivel that has leaked over here over the past few years. The problem with something that's so derivative is that it tends to make everything written about it derivative also, so I think I may quit while I'm behind with this review. If you're in the mood for a scary movie this will do you as good as any, but it's not really worth making any special effort to seek it out.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.

Byeong-ki Ahn
Cast list:
Ji-won Ha (Ji-won)
Yu-mi Kim (Ho-jeong)
Woo-jae Choi (Chang-hoon)
Ji-yeon Choi (Jin-hie)
Seo-woo Eun (Yeong-ju)