For a change, a Korean horror film, recommended by a friend and an interesting study in contrasts with some of the more recent Japanese horror films. The Koreans, as their history would suggest, are a more adaptable people than the Japanese tend to be. The film is disconcertingly western. The decor of the houses, the look of the streets, everything about it suggests a western influence and pervasiveness. Indeed, in the sheer comprehensibility of the threat embodied by the phone and in the labyrinthine details of the plot twists, this Korean film shows Korea as very, very western indeed.

Obviously, it is still Korea. And from the film one gets the impression of a Korea that, while very Western, is very socially conservative. While the decoration in the houses is very sleek, stylish, and modern, the feel of the people and the attitudes seems to hearken back to the 1950s in the U.S. In short, it is refreshing.

Phone has a seemingly hokey premise that plays very well. A journalist who has exposed an underground pedophilia ring among very influential businessmen must go into hiding. She is offered the unused residence of a very affluent friend. Going to this remote location, the journalist applies for a new cell-phone number and discovers that only one number is available. And here is the most intriguing part of the premise--the cell-phone number is haunted. The cell-phone rings and terrible noises come out. The computer goes matrix haywire and spells out only the last four digits of the telephone number. A young girl listens to whatever is at the other end of the line and becomes possessed. Suddenly everything is careening out of control toward a perfectly comprehensible ending.

And that is another place where the Korean movie differs from the Japanese. Much of what transpires makes perfect sense to a western mind. The vengeful ghost has its reason and its reason is clear and its vengeance, while intersecting the lives of some innocent people, is confined to one end.

One other refreshing aspect to the film is the relative strength of the Korean heroine. In most Japanese films the women are too passive to do anything other than scream and go insane or scream and die. Where the woman is strong, she is either a vengeful spirit (as in some of the Ringu movies) or a demented case (as in Audition). To see a strong and independent woman who is still respectful and observant of society's traditions and mores and capable of doing something other than screaming and collapsing is, once again as much in this film, refreshing.

The movie was well made, well-acted, and overall beautifully done. It is creepy, eerie, and disconcerting. It may not be as uncanny and utterly disorienting as similar Japanese films, but it is still all its own. It is neither western nor Japanese, just as it should not be because it is distinctively Korean.

For fans of horror films, highly recommended. For others, a good film, but not for children, nor really for younger teens.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on June 26, 2006 9:17 AM.

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