Tell Me Somthing
review by Gregory Avery, 9 November 2001

In the South Korean thriller, Tell Me Something, police detectives in Seoul discover the remains of a murder victim who has been neatly and professionally dissected, the parts then cleaned and placed in a sealed black plastic refuse bag that is dropped off somewhere in the city. Two more plastic bags are discovered (one during an outrageous scene that takes place in a packed elevator full of adults and children), confirming that the victims (all male, and all working professionally in the arts) were dismembered, albeit under anesthesia, while still alive. Moreover, parts of one murder victim are found to be missing, while those of another have been put in their place; the victims were also not killed sequentially.

A young, pretty museum curator, Suyeon (Shim Eun-ha), is brought in for questioning, and she confirms that not only did she know one of the victims shortly before he was killed: she knew all of them. Suyeon, who has the composed, vaguely troubled appearance of someone who is disturbed by something in her past, is the daughter of a renowned painter who has been presumed to have been out of the country for the last several years.

And -- fear not, disparagers of "spoilers" -- this is just the start of the story. Despite the gruesome murders which are at the heart of its narrative, Tell Me Something is, visually, one of the most elegantly made thrillers in years, beautifully photographed (by cinematographer Kim Seong-bok) and scored (by composer Jo Yeong-uk), with the camera gliding through settings that are supplely coloured in mahogany browns and verdigris greens. The director Chang Yoon-hyun pulls off some virtuoso touches, including a multi-vehicle pileup on a highway which is filmed in real time, and an armed standoff in a record store that is cued to the same Shostakovich jazz waltz used in Eyes Wide Shut.

Suyeon makes a gift of some exotic fish to Cho (Han Seok-kyu) the young detective who is in charge of the case, saying that, for one thing, they might come in handy: "They hear footsteps." The relationship between Cho and Suyeon is very respectful, dignified, and chaste, right up to and including when Cho puts Suyeon up at a "safe house" which turns out to be his apartment. We don't find out what his real feelings towards her are until later, when he's shown watching a video surveillance tape made of Suyeon's movements.

After its attention-getting start, the bulk of the main story turns out to be rather conventional -- a disgraced detective (Cho) must both redeem and prove himself by taking on a difficult case, during which he must rescue and protect a moody, troubled, possibly victimized girl (Suyeon). One's interest in the leads comes mostly from the fact that they look good together, rather than from any emotional resonance they may generate: Han Seok-hyu rather vainly plays to the camera, while Shim Eun-ha has a naļad-like beauty and an air of looking gracefully and decorously removed from what's going on around her. On the other hand, Jang Hang-seon's performance as Cho's older, average-Joe partner, tenacious and shrewd but solicitous, and never rude, is one of the best things I've seen this year. (His reaction to when Cho asks Suyeon point-blank if she was ever in "love" with any of the murder victims whom she knew is choice.)

Yet, despite the presence of five writers who are credited with the screenplay, the pieces of the puzzle still don't entirely fit together at the end. The filmmakers put a very tricky turn near the conclusion which is meant to throw a new light over everything that we have seen up until then, and is meant to make the police look like they've been duped. (This surprise is one of the reasons the film has been likened to the 1995 thriller, Seven.) But every time you think you have the whole thing figured out in your head, long after the film is over, it flies apart, like springs from a clockwork. The makers of Tell Me Something may have intended for their film to have this endlessly tantalizing effect on the audience, and sometimes a film works better if it retains an element of ambiguity. However, after seeing the film twice, I still found myself throwing up my hands in despair, and sometimes you just have to leave it at that. Even Raymond Chandler couldn't explain who killed the chauffeur in The Big Sleep.

Directed by:
Chang Yoon-hyun

Han Seok-kyu
Shim Eun-ha
Jang Hang-Seon
Yeom Jeong-ah.

Written by:
Kyong Su-chang
In Eun-ah
Shim Hye-weon
Kim Eun-jeong
Chang Yoon-hyun.

NR - Not Rated.
This film has not
been rated.





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