Label: Tartan Asia Extreme
Dir – Ahn Byeong-ki – Korean with English subtitles
Starring – Ha Ji-won, Choi Woo-jae, Kim Yu-mi and Eun Seo-woo
Ji-won is an investigative reporter who, having recently published a controversial article about sex scandals, has begun receiving a series of menacing phone calls. In an effort to escape the calls, she changes her number and moves house. But the calls keep coming – and when her sisters young daughter innocently answers the ringing phone, she starts to scream in terror and goes on to exhibit increasingly crazed behaviour. As she tries to unravel the mystery behind the phone calls, Ji-won uncovers the terrible secrets that lie behind her new phone.
The scares are minimal and are of a traditional Asian ghost story model. Technology malfunctioning, long haired women and strange noises happening when something ‘scary’ does occur. With South Korea being close to Japan the cultures appear to be similar and at times Phone feels like a Japanese horror, bringing to mind classics of that genre such as Ringu and Dark Waters. Director and writer Ahn Byeong-ki may have gotten inspiration from these movies, picking elements that work well from them. Byeong-ki would go on to direct other horrors such as APT, Bunshinsaba and act as producer for the 4 Horror Tales series.
The plot is weak in places with certain aspects ignored by the films end. When Ji-won begins to receive the odd phone calls a photo of a chopped to pieces young girl appears on her computer screen. It is a disturbing image that is left cold after being used a couple of times. There are complex issues at work during Phone that are also underdeveloped which harms the film.
Eun Seo-woo is outstanding in Phone. As cute little Yeoung-ju she plays the character very well. Starting off as the cheery little girl-type Seo-woo convincingly starts displaying odd mannerisms and behaviour. At first it is entertaining: when she finishes reading Snow White she sarcastically says “Yeah, right. Shit!” Later it is frightening as she screams, shudders and her eyes roll in their sockets when it appears she is possessed. In one scene she is stood at the top of some stairs shouting about who she should kill first, her mother or her aunt, before throwing herself down them. It is the best thing in Phone.
There are some troubling moments featuring Yeoung-ju. While the film respectfully handles the plot device of Yeoung-ju being sexually attracted to her father and resentful of her mother (the Electra Complex in psychology circles), there is one moment when it is taken a bit too far. Chang-hoon is leaving to go to work and gives his daughter a kiss goodbye. She reciprocates this by grabbing hold of his head and actually snogging him. It is disturbing to see a child attempting to French kiss an adult. Choi Woo-jae (the actor playing the father) must have felt very awkward filming this scene, in fact the same character interacts sexually with a school girl that he has gotten pregnant. Woo-jae must have regretted auditioning for Phone once he had to begin rehearsing these scenes.
Seen by many as being part of the wave of Asian horrors from ’99-’05 that created a worldwide cult, Phone is not as good as its contemporaries. While effective in places it lacks a genuinely suspenseful atmosphere. A planned remake has failed to materialize.