Cello Review

A music professor and former cellist lives an ordered life with her husband, 2 daughters, and her sister until this status begins to unravel in Korean horror/chiller Cello. Hong Mi-ju (Seong Hyeon-ah) has a nice house, loving family, and enviable career, but cracks start to appear when she's threatened by a former pupil over a failed exam. Sinister texts, a dead bird and a near-miss in a car park are all worrying signs for Mi-ju, but these tangible proceedings are only the beginning of the increasingly bizarre events which befall her. Could the pupil be behind the goings on? Or Maybe the creepy housekeeper? Find out in this surprisingly decent film from writer/director Lee Woo-chul. 

Korea is increasingly becoming a nation of horror producers on a par with Japan for the ever-popular Asian Horror market. Films like A Tale of Two Sisters and names like Park Chan-wook have upped the Korean bid to be forthright in the market dominated by Japanese Ringu-type scares. Recent Japanese horrors like Ju-On: The Grudge 2 have milked the now tiresomely familiar frights dry, with the narrative taking a backseat as a fluff filler for the effects. Cello, though, thankfully does the opposite as an engaging, story-driven horror where minimal scare effects function to enhance the story, rather than the other way around. 

Woo-chul's film works for the most part by an ascending feeling of off-key, rather than blatant shock tactics. Paranoia and suspicion fuel the general feeling of unrest, while the few but well-placed frights elevate the horror elements. As less of an effects-laden film, the odd well-framed shot inputs a creepy atmosphere, with the house itself taking on an especially noticeable characteristic of the very subtly surreal. Weirdness personified by the housekeeper and Mi-ju's silent, autistic child keep you guessing, as does her former pupil in a superb turn of effectively creepy bimbo-ness. What begins as a complex weave of plot devices culminates in a traditional ghost-story ending, with the odd inclusion of the Asian-type scares we've become accustomed to. There is a slightly arthouse feel to the film at times, which aids the off-key atmosphere and the initial complexities of the plot make you think rather than just absorb the chills. The subtly creepy atmosphere only heightens the effect of the shocks, none more so than the genuinely brutal realism of Mi-ju's unintentionally horrific act towards the end. You get the feeling that this film wasn't intended to be a cinematic great, but rather an above average and quietly individual chiller, and as such it succeeds.

If long black hair as a scare tactic has worn a little thin with you, then this engaging, story-driven horror could be what you need to perk the Asian horror genre up 7/10

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Three Extremes 2

This Asian triptych sees the collaboration of three prominent directors from three different countries maximising the appeal of Tartan's Asia Extreme label. Director's Kim Jee-Woon (South Korea), Nonzee Nimibutr (Thailand), and Peter Ho-Sun Chan (Hong Kong) each provide a segment in this trio of spooky stories.

Memories, the primary instalment, comes from Kim Jee-Woon (A Tale of Two Sisters) and in it we see a husband fret over his wife’s disappearance. The man (Jung Bo-Seog) sits in lonely silence in his apartment having visions of his wife, which he’s informed is all part of his 'separation disorder'. Concurrently, a woman gains consciousness on a road, apparently having had an accident, and struggles to make her way home. The lack of dialogue and comfortably languid takes in this film makes for a fittingly sombre air to this gently chilling ghost story. Kim Hye-Soo puts a good performance of big-eyed lost confusion which helps to make an empathetic connection which is lacking in her coldly detached husband. The muted colours of the bleak surroundings, coupled with the score, give an atmosphere of drained life, but where this film should’ve stuck with the slightly emotive ghost story, it unfortunately panders to the audience expectations of Asian horror and throws in some completely unnecessary gore which batters the subtleties.

Nonzee Nimibutr (producer of Tears of the Black Tiger and The Eye 2) helms the second segment, The Wheel. With a traditional setting, Nimibutr tells the story of a Thai village, the leader of which dies mysteriously amid rumours of a curse. Like the villagers, he belonged to the Khon, whose status leaves them to covet the highly ornate puppets used in theatre by the socially superior Hun Lakorn Lek. When the leader dies, another seeks to take possession of the puppets for financial benefit, despite the curse. It's just as well this film has the lushness of Thailand and the beauty and intrigue of their traditions to detract from the fact that the content of this film is a bit lacking. More emphasis on atmosphere and less on scares means this piece never goes beyond a sense of the untoward and too many superfluous characters make it less cohesive than it ought to be.

Peter Ho-Sun Chan's final instalment, Going Home, is the most engaging of the three tales. A policeman and his young son go to live in the grimmest possible tenement building which is empty but for the couple opposite, a man and his lifeless, wheelchair-bound wife. When the young boy disappears, the father seeks to find him in the couple’s apartment only to become a hostage of the man with his bizarre behaviour and omnipresent mysterious boiling vats. Christopher Doyle (Infernal Affairs, Dumplings) provides the cinematography here, giving the film a broody feel of unrest. It’s the more modern feeling of the three films in that it goes for more immediate and ongoing shocks than the others. Working its way to a twist ending, Going Home culminates as a sick love story and as such generates the empathy of the viewer which means it's the one with the greatest effect.

Visually accomplished anthology let down by the content which never manages to rise above adequate 6/10


The Quiet Family

The Quiet Family is the tale of an urban family who after an offer to buy a mountain hiking lodge move to the Korean countryside with dreams of a new peaceful life. How ever life never goes as you plan and in this very black farcical comedy by writer and director Kim Ji-woon (Foul King, Tale of two sisters) that’s certainly the case. The lodge attracts no guests at first and then when people do begin to stay things take a dark twist.

The quiet family is probably best known in the west for being the source material for Takashi Miikes “The Happiness of the Katakuris”, and while Miike has lifted scenes directly from this movie, the two films do differ enough even for hardcore fans of Miikes film to want to see this, for one thing this is not a musical which as a long time hater of the musical genre, no matter how hip or weird it is means I enjoyed this film much more. Anyway enough of Miike, this is Kim Ji-woon’s movie and with the recent success in the west of “A tale of two sisters” he is now a very respected genre director in his own right.

The quiet family is the Kang’s, a couple and there three children to teenage girls and a son of twenty one, also living with them is the fathers brother, together they hope to build a new life for themselves in the idyllic mountainous countryside which is popular with hikers. After getting the Lodge spick and span the family waits for there first guests to arrive un-fortunately the hikers seem to pass by without stopping and the only visit they get is from an insane old woman who rants widely about evil and spits a lot I can’t find the name of the actress who plays her as the titles of the film are in Korean (sadly not a language I can read), but the performance she gives is fantastic, delivering an insanely (Pun intended) good performance. The Kang's though don’t loose hart as there is a road due to be built near the lodge making it more accessible to tourists. The road is delayed but the kang’s receive there first guests and thing appear to be on the up, that is until at check out time when they turn up dead. Not wishing to have the reputation of the struggling lodge ruined the Kang’s decide the best course of action is to bury the unfortunate lodgers in the woods near the house, they have however forgotten there’s a road due for construction in that area soon.

Kim Ji-woon’s “the Quiet family” is an excellent farcical comedy, the humour is very black, but genuinely funny and translates well even to a western audience watching with subtitles (The Tai Seng DVD does contain an optional dubbed language track, if you really are bothered by subtitles). Each of the members of the Kang family are realized well and it’s easy to get a sense of each of their personalities, which really helps the film to hit target. Son Kang-ho who played the lead character in Park Chan-wook’s powerful movie “Sympathy for Mr Vengeance” is great here as the young son balancing his performance perfectly managing to be very funny while not becoming cartoonist. Choi Min-sik who played Oh Dae-su in “Oldboy” here plays the good hearted uncle who is constantly referred to by his brother as an idiot. All the cast however turn in a top notch performance that fits the tone and feel of the movie.

The soundtrack is great and each track fits the scene it accompanies very well, nice to see music chosen because it fits the movie and not the market for Soundtrack tie in CD’s which seems all to popular with films produced in the west these day’s. The Tai Seng (Region 2) DVD itself contains a featurette with the guy who put the soundtrack together and he explains the reasons for his choices.

Farcical and black comedy can often fall flat on it’s face (See the Coen Brothers recent remake of “The Lady Killers”), in fact comedy in general is often very hit and miss of course it’s partly down to an individual sense of humour to a point, but for me the quiet family hits the spot. I think it helps that Kim Ji-woon is not pushing to hard for laugh out loud comedy and signposted “Funny scenes”, rather he lets the film flow at it’s own pace and allows the viewer to decide what is funny and amusing.

Kim Ji-woon’s “The Quiet family is one of the finest black comedies in the last decade, cruelly funny and wickedly original

Buy It: amazon.co.uk


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