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Cello (2004)
Director: Woo-cheol Lee

review by Andrew Hook

There seems to be a lot of Asian DVDs on the market at the moment, and we all know the reason why. Their breadth of imagination and appeal can only be good news for some audiences who have watched little else than Hollywood movies, and even if it's only the remakes that create that appeal then at least there are alternate twists of imagination beyond the standard fare. However, it certainly seems that this (cultural) diversity is beginning to wear a little thin as we realise that just because the horror is Asian doesn't actually mean that it has to be good. Can it be that the Asian film industry - just like Hollywood - is as riddled with rubbish as it is full of gems? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

Mi-ju Hong is a music teacher and the survivor of a car accident which killed her best friend (and closest rival in cello competitions) when they were both students. Memories of the crash are sparked off when one of her students accuses her of deliberately giving low grades, and subsequently she is beset with visions of the death of her family after she buys a cello for her autistic daughter. The movie has a dreamlike quality in terms of plot, which adds to the sense of unease as to whether these events are happening in reality or in her mind (although the arrival of the mute housekeeper ups the silly-factor in my opinion). Ultimately, the ending reveals her true nature in a slightly unexpected and not unsatisfactory way, however by that time it's all become a little tiresome.

Cello (aka: Chello hongmijoo ilga salinsagan) isn't a particularly bad film, although its central themes of revenge and guilt are overplayed and its double or triple 'false' endings confuse rather than illuminate the viewer. Many of the scenes are nicely shot, and there are a few brooding, sinister moments coupled with a few jumpy ones. The music is also particularly effective throughout. But what it doesn't do is to add anything new to the genre. Quite simply, it's Asian horror by numbers which - if you remove some of the cultural quirks which wouldn't appear in western movies - isn't that far removed from American horror by numbers. It makes me wonder whether at some point there will be an Asian version of Scream or Scary Movie, causing the whole genre to pivot full circle. Surely, after eight years or so, it's time for something new?

My copy of the Tartan Asia Extreme DVD was a time-coded review disc only, but it appears a behind-the-scenes featurette, director's commentary, and the original trailer will appear on the official (region 2) release, available to buy from 13 November 2006.
Cello

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