Fast-paced thriller fails to make it past vibrate
Oh Seung-min is not a nice man. A manager for a TV starlet, Oh is involved with the mob, ignores his wife, threatens his employees, and just can’t seem to chill out.
Then a model blackmails Oh (Uhm Tae-woong) with a sex tape of his meal ticket Jin-a (Lee Se-na), and Oh leaves the cell phone with the video on it in a coffee shop. But losing the movie’s MacGuffin and title - “Handphone” - has more implications than just the loss of Jin-a’s innocent image when a customer service manager at an E-mart named Jung Lee-gyu (Park Yong-woo) finds it and decides to manipulate Oh into taking revenge on the snotty customers who mouth off to Jung every day.
At first, director Kim Han-nim avoids torture horror, the usual genre for this kind of punish-the-sinner plot, instead sticking to fast-paced suspense. It’s a good decision, and the film’s at its best when it keeps us guessing - why would Oh attack an old man he doesn’t know? Whose car is that he’s beating on with a baseball bat? It’s all part of the struggle for control between Oh and Jung, which eventually devolves into a simple, even pathetic, street scuffle.
But in the latter half one begins to think that the film preferred to ask cryptic questions because its answers simply aren’t very interesting. The showdown at Oh’s home is shoddily written, and a truck to the face would be more subtle than the twist ending.
Thrillers that use new technologies - especially ones that allow others to know where we are and what we’re doing at any time - often make use of disorienting camera trickery, but Handphone is utterly conventional. An uninspired score that never seems to go away doesn’t help offset the dull camera work.
The use of an actual retail chain - E-mart - is just one example of the film’s strange product placement. It’s hard to imagine Macy’s would agree to be depicted as employing a latent psychotic like Jung. And would Verizon market its latest video conferencing features by having a character demand to watch a live amputation? (SK Telecom is one of the film’s producers.) On the other hand, a real store certainly beats an imaginary one - the norm in Hollywood.
The angry customers Jung has to deal with are quite vivid, and the ensemble cast, from the wife to the model who has sex with Jin-a, is full of selfish characters out to achieve their own ends through cleverness, shouting and if all else fails, violence. There’s potential here for a great story, but Handphone’s battery runs out before the conversation really has a chance to get interesting.
By Ben Applegat [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Jung Lee-gyu (Park Yong-woo) and Oh Seung-min (Uhm Tae-woong) are cellular nemeses in “Handphone.”[CineSeoul]
Drama / Korean with English subtitles
Now on DVD