Tell Me Something (1999)
By: J.R. Gregory on August 19, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Kino Video (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). Korean DD 5.1, English DD 5.1. English subtitles. 116 minutes
The Movie
Director: Yoon-Hyun Chang
Starring: Suk-kyu Han, Eun-ha Shim, Hang-Seon Jang
Screenplay: Yoon-Hyun Chang, Eun-Ah In, Eun-Jeong Kim, Su-chang Kong, Hye-Weon Shim
Country: South Korea
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Something interesting has been developing in South Korean cinema over the last couple of decades. It is like they have absorbed all the genres from around the world and have now started producing their own distinct flavour. Overshadowed, at least for Western audiences, by Japanese cinema, it is welcome that some quality South Korean films are reaching new audiences. Films like Whispering Corridors, Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Memories of Murder, The Quiet Family and A Tale of Two Sisters are all highly entertaining and engaging films that demonstrate how quickly cinema from this part of the world has evolved. As is the subject of this review, Tell Me Something, the second-highest grossing film in South Korea of 1999, a serial killer thriller with its own distinct appeal.

From the opening credit sequence, where we witness the clinical amputation of an arm, we know we are in for a graphic ride. Indeed, body parts are one of the dominant themes throughout this film. Black plastic bags have been turning up around Seoul containing body parts, and the discoveries of these make up some of the more memorable scenes. A personal favourite is the discovery of the bag in a crowded elevator (parents take heed and don't let your kids drive shopping trolleys). The body parts found in each bag belong to more than one person, and it is up to the police to determine who these people are, who is leaving these pieces around town, and to stop any more killings.

Heading the case is Lieutenant Cho (Han Suk-kyu) who is under investigation for accepting money to pay for steep Hospital bills from a gangster he was meant to apprehend. Working with Lt. Cho are the usual genre types - we have the cynical and knowledgeable coroner, the quirky but doomed sidekick cop, and the antagonistic rival. They eventually identify the victims found in the bags, and link them to a mysterious young woman, Chae Su-yeon (Shim Eun-ha). It is revealed that she was romantically involved with all three of the men, but is reluctant to reveal anything more and seems to be hiding something. In the meantime, more plastic bags are turning up as each suspect is dispatched. It seems the case revolves around the past of this mysterious young woman, so can Lt. Cho encourage her to tell him something before he becomes the next victim?

Tell Me Something has a superbly established premise for the first half of the film, but does get somewhat muddled towards the end. The director is having so much fun distracting the audience that he seems to have distracted himself at certain points, almost losing the story along the way. Tell Me Something is reminiscent of numerous giallo thrillers of the sixties and seventies, where the director throws up plenty of suspects just to dispatch them when the audience thinks they know they are the killer. There are also confusing plot turns, numerous art and literary references - there are a couple of Korean interpretations of familiar Western artworks that provide the audience with subtle clues about the direction of the film - and even a white-gloved killer for good measure. However, this is a film that rewards further viewings, and doing so certainly clarifies some uncertainties that may have developed from first impressions.

Tell Me Something is generally compared with David Fincher's Se7en. While it does share with Se7en the claustrophobia brought by the rain and darkness, and has a similar denouement, it stands apart from this movie. In stark contrast to Se7en, the director lets you see what is inside the box. And what a sight to behold.
Presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement. Not the clearest picture, but does not detract overly from the film.
Your choice of English or Korean, all presented in Dolby 5.1. Sound quality is good, but not as sharp as you would expect.
Extra Features
A Theatrical Trailer and a Photo Gallery and that's all.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The style of Tell Me Something would be familiar to Western audiences. However, Director Chang Yoon-hyun has studied the Western conventions of film noir, police procedural and detective story and filtered these to create something that is familiar yet unique. Well worth checking out, particularly for fans of giallo cinema who aren't afraid of sampling a different flavour.

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