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With: Han Suk-kyu, Shim Eun-ha, Chang Hang-sun, Yum Jung-ah, Yu Jun-Sang
Written by: Chang Yoon-hyun, Kong Su-chang, In Eun-ah, Shim Hae-weon, Kim Eun-jung, based on a story by Koo Bon-han
Directed by: Chang Yoon-hyun
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence and gruesome images, some language and nudity
Language: Korean, with English subtitles
Running Time: 118
Date: 13/11/1999

Tell Me Something (1999)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Show and 'Tell'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Last August I reviewed a French film called The Crimson Rivers that copied the basic template for an American action thriller but made it better simply because it had a new perspective. Now comes Tell Me Something, which opens today at the Roxie Cinema, a Korean film that copies the template for an American serial killer flick -- but again comes across as more exciting simply because of a new perspective.

How can filmmakers from other countries make basically the same films we're making here but turn them out better? The answer is that American filmmakers in Hollywood don't seem aware that they're making yet another genre film. When Hollywood grinds out another serial killer flick, such as Along Came a Spider to cite one recent example, it feels the need to beat us over the head, giving away plot details in advance. They pretend that they're making something better than the genre and convince themselves that we're stupid enough to believe them.

As directed by Chang Yoon-hyun Tell Me Something revels in its serial killer-ness. It pulls out all the stops with glee; even the scene where the hero gets pulled off the case for being too emotionally involved is delivered with grinning gusto. Indeed, I've heard that David Fincher's 1995 Seven was such a big hit in Japan that filmmakers such as Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure) launched their careers with creative copies. Perhaps that's the case in Korea as well.

Han Suk-kyu stars as Detective Cho, a handsome and scruffy character who begins the film being questioned by his superiors. It seems that a gangster Cho was investigating actually paid for Cho's mother's hospital bills. Thankfully, Chang uses this as character-building backstory only, and we venture forth into the film itself.

A serial killer has been hacking up his victims and leaving assorted parts in garbage bags in various places around the city -- on basketball courts, in elevators and on freeways. Worse, he's mixed them all up. One man's head will be packed in bag with another man's arms. (The weak of stomach should beware -- Tell Me Something can get pretty gory.) The connection is the lovely Su-yeon Chae (Shim Eun-ha), who dated all the dead men at one time or another. Of course Detective Cho and Su-yeon begin to feel an attraction, putting Cho's life on the line as well.

Like Seven, much of the action takes place at night in the pouring rain, and the film tosses a few action-oriented set pieces -- with plenty of car crashes -- at us. And as in so many other movies, the capable Detective Cho comes saddled with a tubby and ineffectual but honest older partner (Chang Hang-sun) who eats a lot and whose honor must eventually be avenged.

However, I admired Chang's inspired use of music, from a deadly remix of Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand" to the Eyes Wide Shut soundtrack. And though I thought I had the mystery killer pegged from the start, the film manages to throw in a couple surprises at the end. Hollywood thrillers assume that audiences won't understand their stories, so they throw in more clues than necessary. Tell Me Something throws the clues in where you least expect them, like a good thriller should. I only wish it could have charged ahead into uncharted territory, like another Korean cop thriller, Myung-se Lee's Nowhere to Hide, did last year.

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