Cello: A Mystery Horror (KR - DVD R3)
Cas Harlow reviews the latest Korean horror, supposedly about a scary cello
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How many horror movies can East Asia churn out about scary pale-faced girls with hip-length black hair and a demonic look in their eyes? There's Ring, Dark Water, Phone, The Eye, Ju-On (The Grudge), the list now seems endless (and they have almost all been remade by Hollywood already, only a couple of years after the originals). Korean Cinema has been making taking big strides recently to become a key player and now, after the success of the disconcerting Shutter, we get Cello, purportedly about hmmm, a demonic cello. Unfortunately, with so many movies in the genre before them (and in such a short period of time) it appears from the title that they may be running out of ideas.
Mr. and Mrs. Hong live a relatively content life with their two daughters and the husband’s younger sister. Mrs. Hong, Mi-Ju (Hyeon-a Seong), is a cello teacher by profession, a talent which she is trying to pass on to her elder, mute daughter, Yoon-Jin. The younger daughter, Yoon-Hye, almost makes up for the silence of her sister by being disconcertingly outspoken for such a young child. Aside from these seemingly minor teething troubles, they are generally happy. The husband, Jun-Ki (Ho-bin Jeong), has a stable job, his carefree younger sister Kim (Da-an Park) is over the moon about her recent engagement and impending marriage and it seems like nothing could go wrong in this household.
Then, one day, strange things start happening to Mi-Ju and her family, and they all seem to be come about because of the playing of ominous cello music. First she hears it in her car, then being played by her mute daughter, and it always has disastrous consequences. Is somebody after her and her family? Is it the student who does not like the grade she was awarded? Or is it something deeper, darker and secret, which nobody wants to dredge up again? Is it… the demonic cello? On the way to finding out we get a few dead bodies, some nice twists and some bloody nightmares that may or may not be real…
Cello is an odd affair with a slightly misleading title as, whilst the cello music often acts as a precursor to a disaster, there is no demonic cello, as such. Sorry if this comes as a spoiler, but I feel that the advertising surrounding the movie (nominally from the e-tailers and review companies) is misleading in its description of the plot. As it turns out, Cello actually has quite a nice, fresh approach to the subject-matter but that does not fully make up for the fact that, over the last few years, this story has been done to death. The pale, demonic girl—she's here, waiting in a mirror somewhere ready to pop out.
If you're new to the whole scary possessed East Asian girl scene (i.e. have not seen Ringu or any of its successors) then you can't go wrong with this Korean offering and if you simply love the genre and cannot get enough of it then this will be a pleasant addition to your collection but those who are a little tired by the lack of diversity offered by this ever-expanding modern horror style will not find enough new here to change their minds. Personally I think that the story would have held up much better without the addition of the now commonplace scary demon-girl.
Cello is presented in an adequate 1.85:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. The detail is reasonable, with occasional (and noticeable) edge enhancement, negligible softness and light grain. The colour scheme is slightly dull, with the locations looking a little too drab for my liking, but I suppose that was supposed to add to the doom and gloom of the horror. There were also a few marks of print damage, which was extremely disappointing to find with such a recent production. Overall the transfer is ok, and never interferes with your enjoyment or shock during the movie, but it is nothing particularly special.
Cello has myriad soundtrack options, all in the original Korean language. First up we get a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, then there is DTS and, just for completeness, a Dolby Digital 2.0 effort. The two six-speaker surround sound tracks are largely identical, with the stereo mix being notably inferior. The dialogue is generally clear and coherent, although does seem a little soft at times in comparison with the vibrant score, which is clearly the high point. From the brief moments we get with the orchestra, to the pieces played on the car stereo or just in the background, there is a great deal of superb Bach cello music on offer here (admittedly they are all violin concertos but they have been adapted to good effect). The effects are generally few and far between, although the smaller noises like heels clicking on the floor or crowds murmuring during a concert, are observed quite well.
Hard enough as it was for me to play the movie with none of the options in English, it was harder still to navigate through the extras. Worse still, none of them have any English subtitles. This makes the featurettes, trailer and (I think) deleted scenes montage largely worthless. Sure you can catch a glimpse of some of the behind the scenes footage but things like interview footage (and deleted footage) is utterly pointless without subtitles. What a shame. Thankfully they make up for this somewhat by the inclusion of a second disc - the CD soundtrack which features several Bach violin concertos adapted for the cello.
Cello is yet another scary East Asian demon-girl horror, with a few novel touches but a generally well-trodden story. The video and audio presentation is fine and there appear to be some nice extras on the disc, it is just a shame about lack of subtitles. Thankfully we get a CD soundtrack as well to make up for this, which makes for a welcome addition. Overall only those who cannot get enough from this genre should give this a look as it has largely all been done before, and mostly more effectively.
This title is available for $26.99 from retailer YesAsia when purchased through this link.
Review by Casimir Harlow
Not suitable for young persons and children
Release Date: 8th October 2005
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Korean, Dolby Digital 2.0 Korean, DTS 5.1 Korean Japanese
Subtitles: English, Korean
Extras: Behind the Scenes Featurette, Trailers, Montage, CD Soundtrack
Easter Egg: No
Director: Woo-cheol Lee
Cast: Ho-bin Jeong, Da-an Park, Hyeon-a Seong
Length: 94 minutes
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