Phone (2002)

Starring Ji-weon Ha, Yu-mi Kim, Woo-jae Choi, Ji-yeon Choi

Directed by Byeong-ki Ahn

Maybe my tastes in Asian horror run more on the subtle side of things, which is why I wasn’t all that thrilled with Phone the way some others out there have been. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very creepy movie with lots of twists and turns, but it just didn’t have that impact like Ring (which is what most people compare it to) had the first time I saw it.

Phone is, at its heart, very confusing, but we start off with a fairly simple plot. A reporter by the name of Ji-Won (Ha) begins being harassed by one of the people involved in a sex scandal case she has broken, so she decides to change her cell number. Once this happens, a different kind of harassment starts to occur, one that makes the listener want to freak out and curl into a ball, crying. Pretty effective crank calls, if you ask me.

One of the Ji-won’s friends and her are out one day with her friends’ daughter at a local art museum. When Ji-won’s phone rings, the little girl picks it up and gets very…upset by what she hears on the other end. Crying, screaming, making the kinds of faces you wouldn’t think little girls that age can make. Very unpleasant.

As the little girl becomes more and more hostile, things begin to unravel for our hero as she tries to figure out how a little girl, a phone number, and a missing child are all connected, and how she can stop this menacing presence before it’s too late.

What you’ve read is a very basic outline of the plot, in truth to talk about too much more would only serve to confuse you. Watching the movie had the same effect on me, actually. Confusion.

There are just too many small plot lines to follow to try and understand exactly what’s happening at any given time. Granted all these sub plots to manage to converge into one major story, but it’s a long time coming and a bit too much work that’s done on the viewers part to make it all that satisfying.

All in all, though, that’s really my only major gripe with Phone, it just tries to do too much. Yes, there are some similarities to Ring inlaid throughout, but the pacing is very different. Whereas Ring took it’s time to build the menace, Phone throws it you from the first 5 minutes and rarely lets up, which is something I’m sure most Western audiences will appreciate.

There are some truly creepy scenes where you really have no idea what’s going to happen, and this is what I’ve found the Asians to do best in their horror. They have a way of pacing out a scene in which something’s going to happen…you can feel it coming…but you just don’t know what. And usually when it does happen it scares the shit out of you, too. There are some very good examples of this in Phone, especially ones that involve this little girl who is not exactly being herself. You’ll have to see it to know what I mean, but it’ll sit with you.

I can’t say, in the end, that I was really disappointed by Phone; I guess I just expected something more unsettling. Aside from some well-done scares throughout, the payoff at the end almost doesn’t make the build up worth it. Once the mystery unravels and the pieces fall into place, you’re left with a story akin to something you’d seen in any Hollywood mystery, but with some minor paranormal glitches thrown in for good measure.

Doesn’t matter, really. If you’re a fan of modern Asian horror, I’m sure you’ll check it out anyway, just keep in mind that it may not be as effective as you hope.

3 out of 5

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Johnny Butane

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