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TELL ME SOMETHING(director/writer: Yoon-Hyun Chang; screenwriter: Eun-Ah In; cinematographer: Sung-Bok Kim; editor: Sang-Beom Kim; music: Jun-Seok Bang/Yeong-wook Jo; cast: Suk-kyu Han (Detective Cho), Eun-ha Shim (Chae Su-Yeon), Hang-Seon Jang (Detective Oh), Jeong-Ah Yeom (Sung-Min Oh), Kim Ki-yeon (Jun-Sang Yu); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Koo Bon-Han & Chang Youn-Hyun; Kino International; 1999-S.Korea, in Korean with English subtitles)
“The Grand Guignol effects seemed more grim than convincing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Chang Youn-Hyun’s “Tell Me Something” is a grisly thriller that was a box office smash in South Korea. The hard-gore scenes feature blood soaked trash bags of severed limbs and heads that suddenly are found in various spots; such as, in an elevator, at the edge of a basketball court, and under a bridge. The Grand Guignol effects seemed more grim than convincing. Its main motif was that it voices horror at how vulnerable a young girl is growing up in the same house with a sexually abusive father. That seems to be a problem not that uncommon throughout the world. But the film’s violence is so pointlessly absurd and the film itself is so joyless and the climactic twists are so downbeat, that “Tell Me Something” never rises above its clichéd derivative visual effects and its clumsy dialogue.

The serial killings leave the cops without any clues. The three bodies are not immediately identified because they are missing limbs or a head or a heart, which makes this case a hard one to crack. Assigned to head the investigation by the police captain is a burnt-out and still mourning Lieutenant Detective Cho (Han Suk-gyu). The first-class cop is given another chance to redeem his tarnished reputation. He was accused of accepting bribes from a suspect he arrested, as the suspect for no plain reason paid the mounting hospital bills for his sick mother until her recent demise.

Cho sets up a special crime investigation unit with his older partner, the veteran Detective Oh (Chang Hang-sun), a nice guy who in a human touch is shown that he can’t resist peanuts and has just quit smoking. The earnest cops try to put this sick puzzle together by figuring out the order of the mutilation murders, by fitting the exchanged body parts to the correct body, and by trying to uncover the motives. After they ID all the victims, they discover all three have a link to an attractive but sullen former artist and current museum worker, Su-Yeon Chae (Eun-ha Shim). She’s a frail, quiet young woman who is single and lives alone. It turns out all three victims were former boyfriends whom she rejected.

The police, in order to protect her, tap her phone and put a tail on her and chat with her only girlfriend, an outgoing second year resident doctor named Sung-Min (Yum Jung-Ah). They learn that Chae was recently seeing, Kim Ki-yeon (Jun-Sang Yu), the owner of her building, a compulsive type who can’t take no for an answer. But she rejected his advances.

The doctor tells the morose cop, who seems to be falling in love with the vulnerable woman, that she first met Chae after she tried to commit suicide and was under her care at the hospital. Chae has a history of attempting suicide ever since childhood. Upon further investigation it’s learned that her father was a child abuser and there was no one home to protect her. It is also learned that her famous artist father has been missing for the last five years and that she hasn’t seen him since she left for Paris to be an artist.

While Cho questions Ki-yeon, he learns that Chae has been attacked but managed to escape. After being released from police custody Ki-yeon disappears, and early the next morning his mutilated body is found in a trash bag on the highway with his head missing. He becomes the fourth victim of the serial killer.

The atmosphere is dark and somber, and when the police investigate it always seems to be raining at night. The plot twist and surprise ending as to who the killer is, is accomplished in such a confusing and dishonest way that it’s hard to respect the film’s integrity. It is especially so since one of the flashbacks is clearly misleading. This will be discovered when the detectives themselves are placed in danger when they learn that a certain Inchon family had only daughters, no sons. Even though the film was slickly photographed and well-acted and the story had its creepy moments, it nevertheless stumbled too much over trying to fill in its giant plot holes.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”