Asian cinema, especially the horror genre, is a real hot fad right now. A few choice directors in Japan (like Hideo Nakata, Miike Takashi, Ryuhei Kitamura and Takashi Shimizu) are largely responsible for this sudden serge of a rather exciting form of cinema. But that isn’t to say they are solely responsible.
South Korea has also put out some of the most unique and visually mind-blowing pieces of cinema over the past few years. Directors like Chan-Wook Park (Oldboy), Ji-Woon Kim (A Tale of Two Sisters), Joon-Hwan Jang (Save the Green Planet), Byung-chun Min (Natural City) and Su-chang Kong (R-Point) have dazzled us, wowed us, and even frightened us with their films in rather brilliant form. Cello is a rather formulaic ghost story from said location and while it’s not as remarkable as some of those other titles, it’s still a lot better than any of the horror films coming out of the United States.
At the end of a bad day of work at the university, Professor Mi-Ju is just about to head home when a former student bitter about an unsatisfactory grade confronts her. After the girl storms off in devilish fashion, Mi-Ju discovers a mysterious cassette tape in her personal locker. She gives it a listen to in the car on her way home and a haunting memory of a tragic event from her past emerges. A series of bizarrely haunted events immediately follow, leaving Mi-Ju struggling for the truth behind the concert recording found on the tape before the members of her family lose their lives.
This plot is similar to countless other “J-Horror” flicks (Ringu or Ju-On most notably) and even its pacing follows the same suit (slow first and second act followed by a an edge-of-your-seat third act). And while it is off to a slow and rocky start, once this bad boy picks up some steam, it’ll singe your eyebrows off.
Also similar to the formula is the use of a creepy kid and this film has two of them. One of them is a curious little girl while the older one suffers from some unknown developmental disorder. The latter is the more hair-raising as it becomes clear that she may have a strange gift for communicating with the supernatural.
Cello also has some pretty stunning visuals to make up for its lack of originality through cinematographer Kwon Yung-chul. His creepy style gives the bland material a little more depth to add a deeper meaning (and more jumpy shocks) to the mix. At the end of the day, this film is frightening enough for die-hard fans of the genre but those seeking a quicker pace or more gore should seek elsewhere. The DVD is complete with a director’s commentary, a brief making-of, and a theatrical trailer.