C E L L O (2005)
aka CHELLO HONGMIJOO ILGA SALINSAGAN
SLASH’S FUCKED UP FRIDAY ENTRY ON SUNDAY
Well, isn’t this special? I decided to dive into Asian Horror cinema, something that Sweaty has specialized in, & newbie, Uncle Frank, seems to know a hell of a lot about as well. So now it is my turn to try to review something in the middle of a sub genre. It is released by the Tartan studios under the handle of TARTAN ASIA EXTREME. Between 2001-2009, there were a couple of a dozen released under that banner; mostly Japanese & Korean.
Let me start by saying that I fell in love with the fucking DVD cover art, & the movie posters. As you can see they were very striking, & somewhat misleading. I now understand that Asian Horror falls into two basic categories, the first being a slasher bloodfest (which I thought this film might be, based on the cover) & the second, which is more the “Ghost Stories”, some can be pretty gory, others not so much; more aligned with psychological & dramatic themes
It was written & directed by South Korean Lee Woo-Cheol, or as preferred in Asia, last name first, Woo-Cheol Lee; you can find Mifune Toshiro listed that way before we Westernize it. To my chagrin, I found that Woo-Cheol is known mostly as a music director, & that this movie is his only credited feature film. It runs at 94 minutes.
None, whatsoever, zero, nada. The female lead actresses are all very attractive, & one simply has to look at their wasp waists, perky breasts, & tight butts through their clothes. One actress did wear one of those sexy maddening high-rise tight blouses that gave us lots of mid-riff belly button thrills, & our lead actress did a shower scene, but the camera stopped at her shoulders. There were some gauzy nightie scenes, with the gals bra-less, but I felt like I was watching CHARLIE’S ANGELS, praying for one of the girls to nip-out for a second or two. But, of course, I was able to find some nude images of lead actress Hyeon-a Seong from other films, which will be include in the BABE GALLERY.
There are some scenes, some situations, where things get bloody, & yet the blood soaked moments were not shocking, or thrilling–they were just realistic, just car accident, emergency room injuries, with a couple of murders & one suicide to keep things interesting; no cannibalism, eviscerations, decapitations, eyeballs popping out, or severed limbs; pretty tame cinematic excrement.
The film was in Korean with English sub-titles, & it was a bit hard to keep straight all the characters, & the relationships. Per usual in Asian cinema of any kind, melodrama & histrionics are integral to the style & to the culture. Back in the late 60’s & 70’s as I got hooked into Samurai films, it did not matter how old or new the films were, there was some eye-rolling, stiffly emotional, melodrama in all of them.
CELLO BABE GALLERY:
Our protagonist is played by Hyeon-a Seong.
As noted previously, I was able to find some nude shots
of there from previous films.
Another reason I chose this film, is the cello is my favorite string instrument. I can listen to the classic strains of Yo Yo Ma, or the zany talents of TWO CELLOS for hours a day.
This movie opens up with a beautiful girl sitting in her bedroom playing the cello superbly; the camera moves around the room slowly, letting us see books, vases, hand-made quilts & curtains, lace doilies, photos–
Cut to a hospital emergency room, a young woman is brought in on a gurney, covered in blood, & the medical staff is struggling to maintain her vital signs. We are not told if she had been in an accident, or had been assaulted–but her chances for survival seem pretty slim.
Cut to a large music room, where six young girls are playing their cellos. We meet the instructor who walks among them. There is another woman standing in the back. She seems a bit disturbed, rubbing at some deep scars on her left wrist. She, it turns out, is a part-time music instructor, & the full-time professor, is a friend of hers. Later in the professor’s office, Mi-Ju Hong is told that she has been put up for full professorship again, & that this time she must try hard not to screw it up.
There is some kind of a sub-plot going on, where she has been invited to a cello concert by the famous artist Hae-Young Kim; who is the younger sister of Mi-Ju’s former best friend, Tae-Yeon Kim. The older girls had been in a terrible car accident & only Mi-Ju had survived.
On the way home she almost has another vehicle accident, but arrives home intact. But she wonders why her dog, tied to his kennel, is acting “strange”. She can find no one in the house, calling for her husband, older & younger daughters, & her sister-in-law, who lives with them. She wanders from room to room, heading upstairs & in the older daughter’s dark room, the lights are snapped on, & the family has sprung a surprise birthday party for her.
Her sister-in-law gives her a record album as a present, a rare one that she has searched for since college; the sister-in-laws fiance found it in Chicago where he was in school. Mi-Ju is acting oddly, because the album was one that had been the favorite of both her & her best friend.
We notice that the older daughter, is acting very strange, almost as if she is developmentally delayed, but perhaps a savant. There is a scene in the bath tub where mother & daughter are bathing (not clear if that is a necessity or just a custom). The daughter is about 9 years old, & begins menstruating while in the tub. The next day the doctor tells Mom not to sweat it; it is not that uncommon. On the way home, while shopping, the daughter is drawn to a specific cello in the window of a music store, so, of course, Mom buys it for her.
When they arrive home, the dog is acting even weirder. Inside they meet a very strange woman in the kitchen; the new eccentric mute housekeeper hired by the husband. The housekeeper is all hair in a tight bun, bizarre stares, scary, up-tight, like Agnes Moorehead in those 40’s films with Olivier or Orson Welles.
The next morning Mi-Ju finds the dog dead in its kennel, & the housekeeper shows up suddenly. Mi-Ju asks her husband, a successful lawyer it seems, to fire the bitch, that there is just something real fucking creepy about here. Then the husband goes into a five minute monologue about how this woman is related to one of his co-workers, was the only survivor of a terrible car accident in which her whole family died in. (Dum-de-dum-dum).
Now from this moment on, Mi-Ju’s life begins to fall apart. A student at school, who is angry about a poor grade she received that “ruined my life”, & who threatens her teacher, vowing she will get even.
On about six occasions, there are pieces of flashback relative to the relationship that Mi-Ju had with her best friend; who happened to be a better cello player than she did. She became so envious, jealous, enraged, that after the accident, she had a chance to save her friend’s life, & chose to let her perish (oh gosh, a fucking spoiler). She gave up the cello after that. But, has to revisit it while teaching her older daughter how to play.
Then over several other scenes we are introduced to the black smoke of the angry spirit that has now decided to punish Mi-Ju, starting off by just pulling her covers off, & blowing icy air on her. Somehow we are to believe that the odd housekeeper is connected to/involved with the ghost, though that is never clear.
The sister-in-law gets the letter of bad news from her fiance, breaking up with her, & she goes bat-shit bonkers, locking herself in her room, breaking everything in sight, wearing her wedding dress, weeping & wailing unconsolably. The ghost appears as an angry lady in black (these ghost bitches all wear black, you know) leaps out of a photograph, & crashes the crying creature through her bedroom window.
Moments later, her brother, Mi-ju’s husband, breaks the door down, & except for the broken window, can’t find his sister. Mi-Ju runs to the older daughter’s room, & finds her standing mute at her window staring at her aunt, who apparently has hung herself on some curtains, & is dangling dead just outside.
Shit begins to happen more rapidly now. Mi-Ju goes to the cello concert with her teaching friend. Mid-concert, it seems that she is alone in the theater, & that the performer has become Tae-Yeon, her dead friend. She leaves the concert in a panic.
Meanwhile at home, the youngest daughter keeps pestering the old daughter to let her “play” with the cello. The smoke bitch arrives, & tosses the 4 year old off the balcony, letting her dangle there by her dimpled chubby little hands.
The older sister patiently peels back her fingers one at a time. Just as the Mom walks into the yard, she witnesses the youngest daughter fall to her death. It begins to rain, as the distraught mother, teetering on a complete mental collapse, carries her baby girl into the house.
Cut to Mi-Ju covered in blood, standing in the living room. The ghost materializes as Tae-Yeon, as if we didn’t already fucking know who she was, & starts to head upstairs to destroy the older daughter who is in her room playing the cello. Mi-Ju grabs a knife, & stabs the specter in the back. The ghost falls on the stairs, & becomes a quite dead weird housekeeper. The cello music becomes louder.
The husband comes home, goes down in the basement, finding his little angel daughter dead in the cello case, still holding a teddy bear. Mi-Ju appears, there is a confrontation; somebody knifes the husband in the back, the ghost, the wife, somebody.
Mi-Ju grabs a golf club, & heads up to the older daughter’s room (who had not been scolded or confronted yet for killing her little sister; oddly). Cut to the Mom bursting into the room, bitch-slapping the daughter, taking the cello away from her, then proceeding to smash it to smithereens with the golf club, tossing it into the hallway, breaking several glass picture frames in the process.
Mi-Ju turns to see the daughter’s bed covers moving, & no sign of the girl. She pulls the covers back to a crescendo of cello, & finds the fucking cello there on the bed. She turns & sees her daughter lying in the hallway, beat nearly to death, her face a bloody pulp, her body drenched in blood. No, no, no, fucking no, the Mom gets onto the floor & cradles the daughter’s bloody head.
Then she hears something behind her. The spirit, angry bitch ghost, makes her pick up a large glass shard. Mi-Ju struggles against it, as her glass blade nears the barely living daughter’s head. With a supreme effort she directs the blade into her own chest.
Cut to her awakening in a wheel chair in the ICU in some hospital. Her entire family is coming to visit her, for she has survived, come out of her coma, & now they can take her home (WTF, this is somehow connected to her being brought bloody, barely hanging on to life, into the ER in the beginning of the film, so it could not have been the original car accident, because she needed a decade to go on with her life, get married, have two daughters–it must have been the “near-accident” from the prelude).
SO, screw me with a soup ladle, all the dark events of the film must have been some kind of Roger Corman acid-trip comatose hallucination while she was in the hospital, right?).
OK, Cut to a repeat viewing of her all healed-up, coming home from work, coming into the garage, not finding anyone, then being surprised by the family for her birthday. But as she opened the “special album”, there is a surprise twist in the plot, & we are left up in the air (hey, no fucking spoiler on the twisted ending; must be getting soft in my old age.)
I must say, the cinematography was excellent, beautiful; lots of bright colors drenching well lit scenes; no spooky half-lit terribly vague shadowy scenes at all. No clue who the cinematographer was, but he made the freshman director look good, as did the person who handled the musical score; probably the director, & kudos to the editor, & the art designer. This was a very handsome, easy-to-watch film.
Rotten Tomatoes did not have a critic’s approval score on this, but they did rate it at 45% Audience Approval, & rated it based on viewer responses at 3.5 stars.
IMDB rated it at 6.2 stars.
The only review was done by Jeffrey M. Anderson of COMBUSTIBLE CELLULOID who wrote a truncated few paragraphs: “Quite competent, yet completely uninteresting.”
Some of the viewers complained that the protagonist, played by Hyeon-A-Seong gave a terrible performance; that was bull shit. Her oddly melodramatic histrionic performance, where her weeping sounded like the witches & harpies in a Kabuki production, were just cultural techniques accepted forever by Asia.
I think her beauty, & emotional depth saved the film, helped us to buy into the hallucinatory events, created some empathy for her character. She won the Best Actress Award at the 2007 Malaga International Week of Fantastic Cinema.
The film could have used even more gore, some scarier Ghost effects, & several tit-shots, but regardless I would rate it as a solid 7 stars out of ten from the HH spectrum.