Phone director Byeong-ki Ahn admits he wanted to take the premise of Ringu and incorporate cell phones as the primary transmitter of terror instead of VHS tapes. (Just when these vengeful spirits will make the jump to DVD is uncertain — and when they do, will it be Blu-Ray or… oh, I’ll save it for another time.) Anyway, he puts together an impressive-looking package with this horror tale, but unfortunately, the film itself falls flat on the wings of derivative, copycat storytelling.
Ji-Won H… is a hard-nosed journalist, who, we soon learn, has blown a sex scandal wide open and made a slew of enemies in the process. Does she care? Of course not. But someone has a mind to make her, as a series of harassing phone calls from a deep-voiced male leads her to believe someone wants her real dead, real soon.
Okay, I’m with you so far. But then, the story veers into some madcap tale of possession where a naughty deceased high school girl may be trying to possess Ji-Won’s small goddaughter (Seo-woo Eun in a phenomenal performance, best in the picture). And the ghost plans on doing it through her old cell phone number, which has left every subsequent owner dead in its wake.
Though the director tries to tie all of it together, it seems very contrived by the end of the film, and the stalking subplot never shows back up after the first forty minutes. I realize Ahn probably wanted it incorporated into his neatly packaged ending, but by then, it seems so displaced, it could very well have come from another movie.
And what Ringu knock-off would be complete without the creepy female ghost with long black hair? This idea has picked up steam as a sub-genre in itself. And after One Missed Call, I’m starting to think cell phone horror will soon supplant it in the Asian market. I appreciate Ahn’s Ringu-fueled inspiration, but must he make the same exact film?
It’s a shame, too, because he’s a talented director helming an equally capable cast. If Ahn (who also wrote the screenplay) would just head back to Creative Writing 101, he may be able to turn out a horror classic. But as things stand, I’m starting to lose my faith in the Asian horror product where, anymore, originality is a concept lost to style.
With the frailties of the film aside, I will give the devil his due on this audio track. The synthesis of major and background action rings through with amazing clarity. Dialogue and bass levels are strong, too. And silence is golden during the film’s more intimate parts. Phone does have a knack for using its sound effects to jar the audience… at least in the first half. As the film starts to unravel, so, too, does its technique. However, the audio presentations, which consist of Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Stereo are both consistent and competent. Where I could succeed finding fault with the storytelling elements, I can‘t touch this disc‘s audio.
Gorgeous. I detected a hint of grain on some of the transitions towards the middle of the film, but for the most part, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is spectacular. I found zero haloing, indicating Phone is nearly, if not, perfect in its non-use of edge enhancement. Ahn showers over sixty or seventy percent of his film in midnight blue, and usually uses bright colors for a small dose of contrast. The result creates a lush, atmospheric frame you just wish had a good movie to go along with it.
TLA heaps the bonus materials on us, most of which is sub-par, one-time-only viewing. The entire cast and Ahn himself are interviewed in three-to-five minute spots, where each discusses their characters, or in Ahn’s case, inspiration. There are three trailers for other films, the most interesting I discovered being A Tale of Two Sisters. Rounding out the collection are some of the promotional materials for Phone as well as two deleted scenes of poor quality, Eun’s scene-specific audio commentary, and a mildly interesting three-part featurette on the making of the film, which includes Outtakes, filming, and make-up/set-design.
Audition piqued my interest for Asian horror films. It’s truly a classic on any continent. Having not particularly cared for Ringu (either version), I found a lot less to like about this film, which blatantly lifts its predecessor’s ideas, and admits to it. Just watch Ahn’s interview for confirmation of this fact. Honestly, I have yet to see an Asian horror film that holds up on coherency. The disturbing images are nice. I’ll admit I wasn’t bored watching Phone. But there’s no shame in having a point… and NOT being disjointed about it. The skills are there. It’s the substance that’s lagging.
Special Features List
- Scene-specific audio commentary
- Deleted scenes
- Promo materials