[HOT ITEM]'You lookin' at me?' Ringing in the hip

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[HOT ITEM]'You lookin' at me?' Ringing in the hip

On a recent Monday morning in a crowded subway car in Seoul, the voice of the popular actress Lee Hye-young rang out, threatening, "Are you gonna pick up the phone or have a fight with me?" Everyone froze at the menace in her tone. But then a boy answered, "Yes, honey?" and commenced a long conversation as if nothing had happened.

The passengers, at first bewildered, eventually got it - the voice was the "ring" from the boy's cellular phone, and the line yelled by the actress was from the movie "No Blood, No Tears."

The boy had used one of the latest cell phone ring services, downloads of lines from popular movies. On a Web site that sells ringtone downloads, there were other lines from the same film, like "Honey, pick up the phone" or "Pick up!" Also, lines are available from other films, like "2009 Lost Memories" and "A Beautiful Mind." A student may want to think twice before using "Classes will dull your mind," from "A Beautiful Mind."

The most commonly used ringtones are basic melodies from popular songs. Young Koreans consider it inexcusably unhip to have a standard ringtone. How up-to-date their ringtones are serves as the barometer of their coolness.

They get the downloads from Web sites or over the phone from automatic receiving services, all of which have the prefix 700. One download from the Internet costs 300 won (20 cents), and from phones it's about 80 won per 30 seconds. On the Web site, you click on the melody you like and call the company's phone number and the sound is downloaded. Users can also download for their friends.

One of the Web sites lists the most frequently downloaded melodies; near the top is "Give the Gold Medal Back," a song - to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Surfin' U.S.A." - about the judging controversy at this year's Olympics. Though the downloads are cheap, Korea has plenty of phone-obsessed teenagers, and the market for the ringtones is estimated at 30 billion won.

There are versions especially for lovers, like "Honey, pick up the phone, it's me" in a cute woman's voice. If you think that's too much, there is "Pick up, it's urgent, you'll be in trouble if you don't" in a man's stern voice.

To expand the variety of sounds, phone makers are releasing new models that play more diverse sounds, which they call "orchestra chords."

"Just like how many colors determines the quality of a monitor, how many chords determines the range of ringtones phones can produce," said Kim Ae-na at Samsung Electronics.

If your phone is an old model that's only capable of making the stock sounds, you'd better keep it on vibration mode.

by Chun Su-jin

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