Cello (US - DVD R1)
More angry ghosts and creepy children. Has Gabe Powers seen it all before?
So there's this perfect little South Korean family, right? Mom is a cello instructor at a local school, husband is a successful businessman, and auntie (husband's sister) is about to marry the love of her life, a fiancé away at school in America. There are also two little girls in this happy household, the youngest is as cute as the proverbial bug's ear, and quick as a whip, and the oldest seems to suffer from a moderate case of autism, causing her to be detached and mute.
One day mom gets a gift, a cassette taped recording of a cello duet, and while listening to it in the car begins to have horrible violent visions, trudging up memories of a traumatic event in her past. But mom doesn't want to talk about it, even when strange and supernatural things begin to happen to her family. Could these events be caused by the cello mom recently purchased for her autistic child? Could they be the effects of the song itself? Could the new, mute housekeeper know something, or is there something more sinister behind it all?
Seriously, enough with the white faced, black haired ghost girls. Enough. I'm done with them. There has to be some other scary image the world's filmmakers can use for ghost stories. If you hadn't guessed it yet, Cello is yet another entry in the genre that if water could fill five Pacific oceans. It looks great, sure—director Lee Woo-chul knows what he's doing—but who cares? Well, I suppose I do, so long as there's a gun to my head.
Seriously, the question isn't ‘Do we really need another Asian ghost story?’ it's ‘What does this one bring to the table?’ This depends on your tolerance for the genre. If you're sick of these films then the only thing I can really say so far as innovation on the part of Cello is that it utilizes some beautiful classical cello pieces. If you've still got some love in your heart for all things black-haired and pale, then Cello will be a pleasant surprise. The plot is different in that it is specific to the lead. She is a player in the game rather than a bystander caught in the middle, as is popular in many post- Ringu scare flicks. The fact that she's trying to avoid these supernatural happenings rather than looking into what may be causing them is a extension of this.
In its favour, Cello is an extremely well acted film all around, including its two child thespians. The fact that these characters can be taken seriously adds quite a bit of credence to the film's cause, and even jaded viewers have to admit some affection for the meat-bags as they die. There is also one sharply crafted creep-out moment, which is more than I can say for most recent knock-offs in the genre. The special effects budget seems to have been adequate as well, and the digital effect of creepy, smokey black stuff (another trademark of the genre) was convincing enough.
The frustrating thing is that somewhere in this moderate mess there's a really good little psychodrama. Had the film's producers decided to go with a totally supernaturaless angle we might've had a minor classic on our hands. As it stands, our lead is a bit nutty, and the seed of the possibility of the events being all in her head is planted. There are also two too many twist endings. I'd recommend that viewers expecting to see a good film should probably stop the DVD the second a sharp slice of glass punctures a lead character. I don't want to get specific and spoil it for you, but seriously, just push stop on your remote or skip to the end credits if you so choose. You'll thank me later.
Cello, as the genre dictates, is a very dark film, but this transfer insures that important highlights cans still be seen. There are some lovely verbose colours, recalling the superior A Tale of Two Sisters, and the wood shaded reds are particularly stunning, as are occasional green flourishes. Blood is a bit on the pink side, but realistic enough to disturb. Though grain and compression problems are minimal, film artefacts are surprisingly common, especially considering the film's vintage. This leads one to believe that Tartan may have been dealing with a damaged print, as does the transfer’s habit of fluttering and even warping. I also notice that headroom often appeared rather tight, and wonder if 1.85:1 was the intended aspect ratio.
As per their norm, Tartan has included both a DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. They are, again, all but identical, with the DTS getting the slight edge on channel separation and volume level. Music is very important to the film, of course, and the speakers all get a nice workout when the symphony swells. Shock-scare sound effects are appropriately punchy and dialogue is clear. There is what appears to be an occasional lip-sync issue, but this may be due to my ignorance when it comes to the Korean language, and it is possible that certain sounds are made with a closed mouth. Neither track is worth getting all shook up over, but fans should be satisfied.
Here's another dose of the ‘Tartan Special’, a subtitled commentary, a fifteen to thirty minute featurette, and a collection of Tartan Asia Extreme trailers. This time the commentary track is a bit more lively than usual, and participants have some fun with it all. Director Lee Woo-cheol is the first to point out an homage of sorts to Park Chan-wook's Oldboy towards the end of the film, as well as a few other nods to recent mini-classics. The audio and subtitles often do not match up, and I'd recommend that most interested viewers simply turn the audio track back to the movie while reading the commentary's subtitles.
The featurette, though longer than others of its ilk, is a promotional piece. There is some insight to the filmmaking process, as well as plenty of footage of adorable Korean actresses acting squeamish amidst the fake blood. It all drags a bit. The following trailers are apt as well, though I wish Tartan would stop putting forced trailers for Sympathy for Lady Vengeance at the head of their recent DVD releases. It's obnoxious.
Another week, another Tartan Asia Extreme ghost story. Cello is decidedly average, but has enough going for it that fans of the genre will eat it up. Frustration sets in when the filmmakers toss in a few too many twist endings, and it's sad to think that there may have been a great film in here somewhere. The disc itself has some minor video issues and a lack of compelling extras, but fits well into the Tartan USA mould.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 25th July 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Korean DTS 5.1, Korean Dolby Digital 5.1, Korean Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Director's Commentary, Behind the Scenes with Cast and Crew, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Lee Woo-cheol
Cast: Jeong Ho-bin , Jeong Yu-mi, Park Da-an, Seong Hyeon-an
Length: 92 minutes
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