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Phone (2002)
Director: Ahn Byong-ki

review by Peter Schilling

Like the Larry Cohen-scripted Phone Booth and Cellular, this Korean mystery is a drama of suspense and narrative twists, which draws attention to our everyday reliance on modern technology, and shows how deeply the individual is affected when that same familiar gadget is misused for wickedly criminal or purportedly evil purposes. But there the similarities end, because Phone (aka: Pon) majors in stylishly effective supernatural creepiness for most of its length, only succumbing to Hitchcockian revelations (albeit in the manner of Brian De Palma tackling Poe) in the final reel.

Basically, this is an entertaining variation on the traditional story of the 'vengeful spirit' that breaks apart a seemingly happy family, to expose what hideous crimes are concealed behind their blissful façade of comfortable domesticity. Scandal-sheet journalist Ji-won (Ha Ji-won) gets seeming 'nuisance calls' from a stalker after her published exposé of underage sex results in criminal prosecution of the older men involved with schoolgirls. She turns to her married sister Ho-jeong (Kim Yu-mi) for emotional support, and Ho-jeong's businessman-husband Chang-hoon (Choi Woo-jae) is happy to offer practical help in the form of a safe house. But Ji-won's relationship to her sister's family (which includes young daughter Young-ju, brilliantly portrayed by Eun Suh-woo) is rather closer and more complex than is readily apparent. Mid-story flashbacks add considerable psychological intensity to the build-up of extramarital tensions, disturbing infant trauma, evidence of brooding conspiracy, and primary supernatural menace that eventually and shockingly wrecks the lives of all concerned.

Despite borrowing much of its startling imagery from other Asian genre pictures, like Ringu (aka: Ring), Dark Water and Ju-on (aka: The Grudge), this is a satisfyingly weird sleep-disturber that explores its genre-literate themes with commensurate skill. If you're still not tired of this spooky far-eastern cycle of haunted houses, psychic thrillers and threats from beyond the grave, and want another such entertaining, oriental scare-fest, this phone call is definitely for you-hoo...

This region-free DVD from Tartan Asia Extreme has a first-class anamorphic transfer (widescreen ratio 1.85:1) in the original Korean with English subtitles, and Dolby digital 5.1 surround or DTS sound options. Disc extras include filmed interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, a standard making-of featurette, audio commentary track, TV spots and a handful of Tartan trailers.
Phone

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