Tuesday 12 August 2008

Cello (2005)

Hyeon-a Seong is the most striking lead I've seen in an Asian horror movie in some time. She's absolutely gorgeous, which is hardly surprising, but not in the standard way. She's older than the usual schoolgirl lead, less conventional in her looks and she dresses nicely but hardly flashily. Yet she seems so real, right down to the slight hunch and the mole on the bridge of her nose, unusually and refreshingly real. She can act too, subly so, and I'll be very interested to see her other films to see how versatile she is.

She's Hong Mi-ju, a part time cello teacher who seems to be doing very well for herself. She has a husband who's obviously making a decent living, judging from the size and quality of their house and its contents; she has a notable talent and the means to enjoy it and she has a family who obviously cares about her. However she's also got plenty of problems in her life. Her eldest daughter, Yoon-Jin, has some sort of developmental problems, while her youngest is merely precocious. Her sister-in-law, who lives with them, is distraught and Mi-Ju is being tormented by a student who holds a grudge for a bad grade she gave her.

She also has three deep scars in her wrist from a past that she's not telling about and she's having some bizarre hallucinations. These aren't just minor little nightmares either: they're dangerous hallucinations that are causing people to die and are putting her into serious danger. It all seems to tie to this mysterious past which is only gradually revealed. There's also a new housekeeper, who her husband has hired as a favour: she was struck dumb after drinking acid in a suicide attempt after losing her entire family in a car accident. How she ties into Mi-ju's past isn't particularly clear, but there are many twists to come. This is a tight plot, with nothing wasted, and there's a lot in there to pay attention to.

This Korean horror film plays less on the effects such movies tend to rely on, so is notably less horrific than its fellow genre entries, focusing instead more on the psychological aspects of Mi-Ju's story. Her character is vastly deep and it unfolds slowly and gradually in layers. Some of it is reasonably obvious, though it's played out very nicely indeed, while other strands are less expected and thrown at us with blistering effect. All this plays out to a delightful soundtrack, mostly played on the cello, as you can expect from the title. Even Yoon-Jin's amateur and dissonant attempts to play the cello are somehow pleasing to the ear and Hyeon-a Seong's melodious voice matches the cello material nicely. I was seriously impressed with this one: it isn't perfect, but it's a peach of a resonant shocker.

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