Despite being a 2009 film based on the concept of the mobile phone, when smart phones were not the rule yet, "Hand Phone" seems to be even timelier today, since people seem more attached than ever to their phones.
Seung-min is a sleazy manager in love with his phone and his work, who has been neglecting his wife for years to pursue his line of work. However, he is not very successful, a fact that has led him to borrow money from loan sharks, who are now after him. When one of his clients, young actress and model Jin-Ah manages to land a cosmetics advertisement, Seung-min starts to believe that he has finally got the break he expected. His dreams are shuttered though, when he receives a video message from one of the girl's ex-boyfriends (who happens to be a former client of his), showing the two of them having sex. Since the circulation of this video would destroy the image of the innocent girl, Jin-Ah has built her career on, the boyfriend blackmails Seung-min for money, in order to give him the original file. Although Seung-min manages to get the video without paying (by beating the guy), he forgets his own phone in a cafe. When he realizes that he has not erased the video from his apparatus, he panics, but soon a guy calls his wife to tell her that he has his phone. Unfortunately, this guy is Yi-gyu, a director at a large supermarket, who spends his work time being bullied by customers. Furthermore, he decides to blackmail Seung-min, in order to exact revenge from those that hurt him. Things, however, do not go exactly his way.
Kim Han-min directs a very fast-paced and agonizing thriller, which differs from the plethora of similar productions coming out of the country for a number of reasons. To begin with, he makes a number of comments on contemporary South Korean society, which is dominated by consumerism in all aspects. The concept of the supermarket is a distinct sample of the tendency, that shows how difficult it is to work at a place like that today, since the motto "The Customer is Always Right" has deemed the customers omnipotent, and the employees slaves to their wishes, no matter how unreasonable. Personally, having worked in a place like that, I identified with Yi-gyu's frustration, who, as one of the people in charge, has to face the clients, the employees under him and the administration of the company.
A similar comment applies to the world of show business, were everyone seems to be shallow and only interested in money and fame, with the people in it actually treated as products rather than human beings.
Furthermore, Kim directs a script from Kim Mi-hyun, where not a single character is likeable or good, in a trait that allows him to make them go to extremes to achieve their goals, and at the same time, forbids any kind of sympathy from the audience, despite their many plights. This trait retains the agony throughout the 137 minutes of the movie, since the film is quite unpredictable. The very fast pace, implemented by Kim Sun-min's great editing, also moves towards that direction. Lastly, among the violence that ensues increasingly, as the story unfolds, he has managed to inject a number of comic sequences that make the film even more entertaining.
The two protagonists, Uhm Tae-woong as Oh Seung-min and Park Yong-woo give impressive performances, as two characters that do not seem to get a break, no matter what they do. The film is largely based on their performance, with their collision becoming more inevitable as time passes, and they both deliver in wonderful fashion.
"Hand Phone" is great film, as it combines all the pros of the South Korean school of action thrillers with a depth not so frequently associated with the genre.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Available on DVD and streaming from Amazon
DVD (En Sub)
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[Guest Film Review] "Hand Phone""
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