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Original Title:

South Korea 2002


Ahn Byeong-ki

Ha Ji-won
Kim Yu-mi
Choi Woo-jae
Eun Seo-woo
Choi Ji-yeon

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Story: Ji-won (Ha Ji-won) is a journalist and is threatend by a stranger after publishing a certain article. To avoid future intimidations she goes into hiding for now. Her friend Ho-jeong (Kim Yu-mi) and Ho-jeong's husband Chang-hoon (Choi Woo-jae) can help her out by giving her the keys to their yet unused second house.
Moreover, Ji-won also changes her cell phone number. One day she receives a strange call on her cell, which accidentally is answered by the daughter of Ho-jeong. Since that day little Yeong-ju (Eun Seo-woo) starts to behave very odd.
The creepy calls don't stop and Ji-won starts to look for the caller. Doing this she finds out that the two persons who were the former owners of her cell phone number both died under mysterious circumstances. It seems that a ghost is taking revenge and that Yeong-ju is possessed by it now.
Slowly Ji-won uncovers that the ghost of the girl Jin-hee (Choi Ji-yeon) is behind all of it. Jin-hee had an unknown boyfriend, who one day didn't want to see her anymore. However, Jin-hee couldn't let her boyfriend go and suddenly she just disappeared without a trace. But what is the connection between this story and Ji-won, Yeong-ju and the parents of that little girl?

Review: "Phone" without a doubt sticks to the premise of the classic "Ring" from Hideo Nakata. Nevertheless, the movie has one advantage over similar clones, that is "Phone" was one of the first horror movies of this kind out of Korea at the date of release. This doesn't make the film any more original than it really is, of course, but luckily director Ahn Byeong-ki ("Nightmare") tries to approach his work on a more character orientated basis. This shifts the focus from your typical Asian horror to a more dramatic background story, without having to dispense with nice shocking moments. This makes the movie special in the way that it doesn't go down in the flood of "black-haired-ghost-of-young-girl flicks that hit the screen en masse nowadays. Even though one makes in fact use of that cliche here and there in the movie.

"Phone" once again showed me, that one has to become accustomed to the way Asian movies are made in order to be able to fully appreciate them. I still remember well, that I watched the movie already 2 years ago and thought that it was rather dull and too complicated. Maybe this was because I couldn't distinguish the Asian faces from one another yet? Or maybe it was just that I was too tired for a movie like this when watching so that I fell asleep on several occasions throughout the movie...
However, this was absolutely wrongly so! "Phone" is a gripping and clever horror film that holds ready some nice surprises and twists. Moreover, it offers good actors, a tense atmosphere and technically it's also top-notch.

Ok, I have to admit that the movie doesn't make it easy for the viewer. The narration is very interesting, on the other hand it's also very confusing. With use of many flashbacks, that aren't apparent as such at first, the stories of the different characters are told. Doing so the movie takes its time and the focus sometimes lies too long upon just a few persons so that later on the emotional bonds you had to the other ones have faded. Besides, these flashbacks and dream sequences are used so often that sometimes you just don't know if a certain scene is supposed to be for real or not. A good example is the side-story about the stalker, that threatens Ji-won. The whole thing is handled with in such a strange way and concluded without any further explanation, that one might think that this is also one of those dreams.
Who is the one responsible for the fact that the movie sometimes is cut a little bit too confusing doesn't matter because in the end it proves to be not much of a bother. Most of the time you can keep track of the events and satisfyingly enough the viewer is always asked to pay attention to what's happening on the screen.

The acting is over the top. Ha Ji-won gives a nice performance and back then was even titled by the press as the new Horror queen. Well, it didn't work out that way, because as we all know she started to make a name of herself with Rom-Coms like "100 Days with Mr. Arrogant" or "Sex is Zero". This is a pity, as Ha Ji-won has undeniably good acting skills, which mostly just shines through in more intense and credible roles. Here she shows us something of it. Unfortunately, her character isn't always in the center of events, so that she sometimes only gets a raw deal.
Kim Yu-mi ("The Doll Master") and Choi Woo-jae also deliver a nice show, but the real star of the movie is little Eun Seo-woo. At first the loveable, sweet child she becomes a real psychopath, whose facial expressions can make your blood run cold in an instant. She isn't your typical mysterious "Ring"-girl, but a terrifying child that looks like going to cut your throat any moment. The evil, extroverted behaviour of the girl and its sudden "maturity" are simply mind-blowing. This is by far the most impressive acting achievement of a child-actor I've ever witnessed and this includes Haley Joel Osment's efforts in "The Sixth Sense", too!

As already mentioned, technically the movie is top-notch. Nice shots, good settings and great lighting of the scenes, as well as a fitting soundtrack will let you dive deep into the movie. Of course, there are also some well done shocking moments, however, they are pretty predictable. Anyway, it's enough to make you feel uncomfortable and let you check your room if there really is no one hiding in the corner...
The movie's strength lies within the well drawn characters, their motivations and secrets. The story is good and has some nice twists. The pacing sometimes seems to be a little slow, yet there is always a tense atmosphere the film keeps up. Ji-won's search for the truth and the resolving may contain too many coincidences, nevertheless, it's easy to forgive these flaws as the movie rather plays with the characters than to go for some cheap horror as one seemingly is tempted to do nowadays.
Good, bone-chilling entertainment, that will win you over with a great cast and a nice story.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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