Thursday, November 16, 2006
Another entry into the Asian horror genre, the South Korean Cello tries to distance itself from the pack by focusing more on the story than predictable scares. Unfortunately, this only half-works. We are treated to a rich drama involving a former cellist-turned-music instructor, her family, her tragic past and her seemingly slipping sanity, but the scares are almost non-existent.
Mi-Ju is a part-time music professor with a tragic past. When she was younger, she was an up-and-coming cellist, until she was in a car accident with her rival/best friend, Tae-yeon. After Tae-yeon died, Mi-Ju gave up playing the cello and decided just to teach. One day, one of her students threatens her after receiving a bad grade and so begin Mi-Ju's problems. She is sent a mysterious cassette tape that contains a haunting cello duet that dredges up some painful memories of Tae-yeon and almost causes her to get into a car accident. She is distant from her loving family which includes her two daughters, husband and sister-in-law. Her older daughter is mentally disabled and mute, but falls in love with a cello she spies in a window. Mi-Ju buys it for her and begins to teach her how to play it. Meanwhile, a new maid moves into the house. She is creepy as hell and is also mute. It seems as though her family was killed in a car crash and she tried to commit suicide numerous times, once by swallowing acid. No more vocal cords there! Anyways, things start to get creepy slowly but surely...the family's golden lab, Sunny, begins barking all the time until one morning he is found dead. Mi-Ju starts seeing things, her daughter begins playing that haunting song on the cello, the sister-in-law goes crazy after her fiance breaks up with her and "accidents" befall the household. Is Tae-yeon out for revenge or is Mi-Ju's guilt driving her crazy?
I found this different than most typical Asian horror films. The story is much more rich, with well-developed characters but it doesn't focus much on typical Ju-On or Ringu-type scares. The terror doesn't really begin until the last 20 minutes of the film, giving only glimpses of what or who is terrorizing Mi-Ju and her family. Like most Asian films, it does focus on building tension through the atmosphere. The atmosphere is nicely complemented by the gorgeous cinematography and the soundtrack (heavy on the use of the cello, of course). This is a slow film, but if you can live without the wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am speed of most films today, I recommend Cello. Some claim the film is slow and redundant, but unlike most films where repetitiveness is a time-filler, the repeating themes throughout Cello actually stand for something; in this case, the nightmare that Mi-Ju relives over and over through the different tragedies she suffers. This theme also plays flawlessly into the twist ending.
Cello does have its flaws and I wouldn't be so quick to add it to my collection, but it is definitely worth your time if you appreciate this type of cinema.