By Lee Hyo-won
" director Kim Han-min
brings yet another unconventional thriller, "Hand Phone"
. But unlike his previous work, the setting shifts from an isolated island to the big city and, like its title suggests, revolves around every urbanite's essential hardware, the cell phone
The cell phone, which South Koreans commonly call "Hand Phone"
and thus the title of the film, has appeared without fail in recent thrillers such as "Seven Days"
. "Hand Phone"
also has the victim running around as the perpetrator whispers orders from the other line. It capitalizes on the familiar anxiety of looking for a charger when the battery starts dying out on an important conversation. It also shows the perils of losing one's personal information held by cell phones.
The beauty of the film lies in its haunting revelation of the grotesque in things mundane and the unleashing of the latent beast within individuals, including the most docile, under-pressing or unexpected situations. The movie is all about character development, and Park Yong-woo
's ("Once Upon a Time"
) skin-crawling yet sympathy-provoking performance is the reason for watching the film.
Seung-min ("Forever the Moment
" star Eom Tae-woong
) is a celebrity manager who will sacrifice whatever is necessary for his career. Even as loan sharks threaten the safety of his wife (played by "Paradise Murdered
" beauty Park Sol-mi
), he hosts debaucherous parties to kowtow to filmmakers. His only hope is Jin-a (newcomer Lee Se-na
), a starlet on the rise for her sweet, innocent image. When Jin-a lands a lucrative modeling contract, however, her boyfriend Yun-ho (model Kim Nam-gil
) blackmails Seung-min with their sex video.
To make matters worse, Seung-min loses his cell phone, which stores the sex video and hundreds of contact numbers that are essential to business. A male voice (Park Yong-woo
) promises to return the device, but only calls to pry details about Seung-min's private life, showing rather too much interest in his wife.
Fearing that the sex clip will wind up on the Internet, Seung-min decides he has no choice but to follow the anonymous caller's orders: first, to answer calls with a cheerful, "Thank You"
, second, to be polite, and third, to carry out specific actions against certain individuals. But the third order becomes increasingly violent and, when finally his wife becomes involved, Seung-min starts to track down his phone and its new user on his own.
Unlike most cat-and-mouse chases, "Hand Phone"
makes no secret of who the perpetrator is. I-gyu is no serial killer or kidnapper with sinister intentions; in fact he's a diligent manager at a local retailer who never loses a smile even when attending to the most obnoxious customers. When he discovers, however, that he can also exert control over someone ― and be a king like his customers ― Seung-min becomes an outlet for his frustrations, and he submits to his darker side and has his revenge.
Both men are workaholics who allow their jobs to shape their private life, and the movie turns noir in the style of Woody Allen's "Match Point". The movie enters a sort of gray zone where the victim is more despicable than the perpetrator. Seung-min's morals are rather questionable to begin with, but I-gyu's "split personality" is slightly understandable. Viewers may sympathize with this guy next door who is himself a victim ― in the bizarre customer service culture that has recently become omnipresent in Korea, workers are told to submit to customers as if they are like dictators rather than kings.
While the convoluted plotline slightly downgrades its overall quality, the thriller clearly reminds viewers not to lose their cell phones.
In theaters Feb. 19. Running time not yet announced. 19 and over. Distributed by SK Telecom.