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Original Title:

South Korea 2009

Thriller, Drama

Kim Han-min

Eom Tae-woong
Park Yong-woo
Park Sol-mi
Lee Se-na
Hwang Bo-yeon
Park Kil-soo
Lee Seung-joon
Kim Gu-taek
Choi Chang-gyoon
Bang Seung-goo

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Story: Oh Seung-min (Eom Tae-woong) is a talent scout and seems to have finally made the big breakthrough with his newest discovery. However, he is soon sent a video to his cell phone, which shows his client, a young rising actress, in a few positions unfavorable to her career. Seung-min is blackmailed, but he can eventually get the original video in his hands by using force. Yet, shortly thereafter he loses his cell on which the video is still stored. As all of his appointments are also noted on his cell phone the manager is sliding into a true crisis until a strange man, Lee-gyu (Park Yong-woo), contacts him and says that he has found his cell. Although the man is constantly asserting that he is about to give back the cell he is continueing to keep Seung-min on tenterhooks until he tells the manager that there are certain conditions that need to be fulfilled for him to give back the cell. The unhappy employee of a department store chain is using Seung-min to get revenge on some of his customers and also seems to have some interest in Seung-min's wife (Park Sol-mi). Gradually, the game the two are playing becomes more and more deadly.

Review: "Handphone" is a fast-paced thriller that promises to deliver good but shallow entertainment. But as the film progresses the viewer gets aware that there is a bit more behind the movie. A message about (Korean) society that isn't just restricted to the cell phone as a technical means which we entrust too many aspects of our life to, because even though that's what should be expected when hearing the movie's title, the director couldn't have created something new this way. Instead he uses the two protagonists of his movie as transfer pictures of society and contrasts them with one another in a cynical and scathing manner as he expects of us to feel committed to identify with them. In fact, we even oblige only to find out that there is no clear line drawn between villian and hero. One of the film's biggest strengths that makes the thriller become more captivating and multilayered with every minute that passes.

Actually, from the very beginning the movie makes no secret that Seung-min is a sleazy guy who is only interested in make his carrer, no matter if that means that he has to suck up to someone or to enforce what he wants on individuals weaker than him. Furthermore, he neglects his wife so that she is even having an affair with someone else and the numerous warning signals she sends out he studiously ignores. Nonetheless, we root for him when he loses his cell phone and when the stranger contacts him it is pretty obvious to us that this man has to be a manic nutcase who is most likely a serial killer as well which Seung-min has to save his wife from, eventually leading to the husband standing as a refined man at the end of the story. That's the point where the viewer starts to lose interest in the movie, but absolutely not rightly so as "Handphone" goes into a completely different direction after that.

Good is evil and evil is good, anyway both of the protagonists have motives for their actions, even if they might not be apparent right away. What starts with the simple loss of a cell is getting wind up more and more, Seung-min frees himself of the role of the victim and becomes the perpetrator and this even though that wouldn't have been necessary as Lee-gyu is a victim of society himself all along. The scenes in which he lets the customers humiliate him - as the customer is always right - earn him all of our sympathy and the actions of the customers are sadly just like those of most Koreans so that we start to develop antipathy toward society as a whole. A few other aspects are added in the course of the movie and draw a picture of Lee-gyu that we didn't have of him at the beginning. The cell phone that he found is merely a chance for him to be the one in charge himself once in his life. That we can understand his motives doesn't make his actions better, but more credible.

The thriller evolves with a fast pacing although the viewer gets a bit annoyed at first that Lee-gyu is simply not handing over the cell and that Seung-min isn't doing something about being messed around with. But this changes eventually and things luckily prove to be more complex than we thought at first. Interestingly, there are some developments in the movie that you can't predict. Among them are certain mistakes that the protagonists make. Lee-gyu mentions that the last numbers of Seung-min's cell phone number are identical with those of his license plate, but the talent scout doesn't follow this lead since he apparently has simply overlooked or forgotten this fact. Moreover, there is a small scene inserted at a physician's that could lead us on a false trail later on, but in order to even get on this wrong path you have to pay attention to this apparently unimportant scene. That's why espectially the attentive viewer will have a lot of fun with "Handphone".

Director Kim Han-min could already deliver a solid thriller with "Paradise Murdered", in "Handphone" there is especially a well thought out screenplay that is convincing and a world, in which there are only shades of gray, that can score. In between there is always some social criticism insinuated. The movie is furthermore carried by two great actors. Park Yong-woo ("Blood Rain", "My Scary Girl") can even outshine his acting colleague Eom Tae-woong ("Chaw", "Forever the Moment") on several occasions since the assigment of who is good and who is evil shifts at the end a bit. However, it has to be pointed out that the ending has an unnecessarily lengthy epilogue. The developments and twists during the finale are very welcome and also bring some more drama into the film, but with it's unnecessarily lengthy epilogue the movie's battery is soon running low so to speak. Apart from that Kim Han-min's "Handphone" proves to be a nice surprise that can deliver three-dimensional characters and harsh developments of the kind we would only expect of a Hong Kong movie. A well done thriller.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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