Genre: Technology-Enabled Supernatural Horror
Director: Manabu Asao (2006)
review in one breath
DON'T ANSWER THAT PHONE!!! The cursed calls are back, this time decimating a group of high school students on a field trip to South Korea. Obnoxious screaming youth, a heart-wrenching tribute to the beauty of sign language, helpful tips on where to "hang" out in downtown Seoul, and a whole new way to be wrong about basic internet functionality are ALL included in this third and hopefully "final" installment of the One Missed Call saga.
Well here we are again with another Chakushin Ari sequel. The original Chakushin Ari was directed by Takashi Miike in 2003 and was relatively impressive (to me) for its rather foreboding and destructive display of malevolent ghoulie mayhem. A US remake of Miike's film (or at least its premise) by director Eric Valette entitled "One Missed Call" was just released in theaters on January 4, 2008. I haven't seen the remake but the IMDB trivia blurb states that director Valette didn't watch the original until after he had finished his film. Make of that what you may, but its current score at RottenTomatoes.com of a whopping 0% (0 positive reviews and 59 negative reviews) may be all you need know about the remake...
The Japanese sequel entitled, you guessed it, Chakushin Ari 2 was directed by first-time feature director Tsukamoto Renpei in 2005. Though it utilized by far the same premise, Tsukamoto broadened his sequal at least geographically by carrying the storyline and filming beyond Japan and into Taiwan. When I reviewed that film, I suggested that the Taiwan locale may have been in part a tribute to Miike whose many other films involve a Japan-Taiwan overlap of cultures and filmed locations. I guess I'd still like to believe my tribute theory but am second-guessing it now since this third film retains the international aspect but this time uses a Japan-Korea connection. Why Korea, you ask? Me too.
This third film is entitled Chakushin Ari Final. NOT Chakushin Ari 3, but "final". And let's pray it is so. A steady and perceptible trajectory of decline in quality and plausibility is apparent amongst these three films and I don't think I can survive another iteration of de-evolution (let alone the US remake!). By the time we throw this film into the mix, primary elements of the narrative and plot are there NOT because they need or should be there, but simply because they can be there. For example, why make Korea the setting? By the end of the second film, we learned that the Phone Curse started and supposedly ended in Taiwan. So why set the entire film as a sight-seeing trip to Seoul? I'll tell you why. For absolutely no reason at all. Initially I thought it was perhaps due to the director's (or some executive's) desire to introduce audiences to the sole Korean cast member in this film, Yun-seok Jang. But then I realized this theory makes no sense, since Jang plays a deaf mute who uses sign language throughout the entire film. They could've simply flown him to Tokyo for the part and his Japanese language skills still would have been irrelevant.
Okay. I'm rambling. I'll move on.
Chakushin Ari Final (aka One missed Call: Final) is directed by Manabu Asao whose directorial work in Senrigan you may be familiar with. This is Manabu's first flat-out horror film but he brings to this his experience in the thriller genre. One of the two leading characters here is Maki Horikita in the role of Asuka. Maki was only 18 when she appeared in this film but by then was already a familiar face in contemporary Japanese horror films. Prior to this she appeared in Shibuya Kaidan (The Locker, 2003), Yogen (Premonition, 2004), and the theatreical release of Kaidan Shin Mimibukuro (Tales of Terror, 2004). Starring alongside her as the character Emily is the young knock-out hottie Meisa Kuroki, whose non-existent horror resume I will forgive due to my having a crush on her.
An exuberant third year high school class is taking a cultural field trip to Seoul, Korea. All are there except for a notable one or two students; Notable, that is, for being the class outcasts and objects of class scorn and ridicule. One such student is Asuka (Maki Horikita), who recalls nothing but cruel bullying at the hands of her classmates. And those classmates that did not actively participate in the bullying simply watched quietly from the sidelines. Another missing student is Pamu, who was recently found hanging by the neck at the school. She apparently committed suicide following the continued mistreatment she received from her classmates.
Asuka was at the school the night Pamu hung herself and discovered the body. As school personnel took Pamu down, her phone fell from her pocket, a momento which Asuka picked up and kept.
During the boat ride from Kyushu to the Korean Peninsula, one student's phone rings with an unfamiliar tone. (To those having seen the prior two prequels, the tone is hardly unfamiliar!) The phone indicates that the call is from Pamu, but the message left is of the student's own voice. Attached is a photo of the student hung by the neck. The date and time of the call is listed as having come from the following day, as if she called herself from tomorrow.
Needless to say that something terrible befalls the student involving hanging from the neck while uttering the same exact words as were on the phone message. Then another student's phone rings, a similarly strange message is left followed by an equally dismal fate, and soon the students are convinced that the dead spirit of Pamu has cursed them to die one by one, signaled only by the strange call. They begin to take seriously the phone's message that if they do not forward the call to another of their friends, they will surely die.
Then all hell breaks loose. What they all thought were friendships quickly dissolve into suspicious chaos as no one trusts anyone else. The one receiving a call must decide to whom he/she will forward the curse, amounting to a death sentence for a classmate. The others decide it is better to take things into their own hands than wait around to see who will be handed such a cursed fate. Friend turns upon friend, victim turns upon bully, and all the while calls continue to stream in from Pamu's phone.
Well, I think my plot summary makes this film sound pretty decent, doesn't it. Kinda like a Battle Royale using cursed phone messages. But there are a few confounding items I left out due to their being potential spoilers. There is a decent plot twist just after the halfway point, but its impact and meaning are soon buried under stuff which is either inexplicable or simply implausible.
I'm afraid to say that this will not be a very satisfying movie to anyone looking for something similar to or better than the original Chakushin Ari. The Fright/Horror factor is significantly less, the special effects team is apparently on a shoe-string budget, and there are so many unnecessary layers to this narrative that it boggles my mind. Throw into that mix a group of twenty screaming high school kids whose cumulative acting experience adds up to, well, this film, and you start to get the idea.
This is another one of those films that you will certainly want to rent rather than buy. This is not yet available in any Region 1 subtitled version, but chances are its already in the works. Unless, of course, the crash and burn reviews of the recent US remake (of the original) scare such an effort away. (In which case you may just be spared potential agony.)
Okay, I can't resist. If you plan on seeing this and prefer to discover things for yourself, I encourage you to read no further and perhaps come back to this after you've made up your own mind.
This narrative consists of three dueling (tri-ueling?) layers which, at least in the current film, seem to unsuccessfully clash which each other. First, you have the layer consisting of the high school class (on a trip, yada yada) and a bullied, deceased student (Pamu) who wishes revenge. The dynamic of this narratival layer in and of itself could easily support a very decent horror tale of this variety. The only problem with such a simple plan is that it would not fit into the Chakushin Ari franchise and title.
So the second narratival layer is put in place involving not only the phone (through which the curse/malevolence is transmitted) but also Mimiko, the formerly-abused-but-now-ghastly-little-girl from the original film (but not the Taiwanese formerly-abused-but-now-ghastly-little-girl from the second sequel. That's a different formerly-abused-but-now-ghastly-little-girl!). I understand the marketing necessity of sticking with the "One Missed Call" brand. But what exactly is the connection between Pamu and Mimiko? It is explicitly clear from the storyline that Pamu hangs herself, not due to anything involving a "phone curse" but purely out of deep despair spawned by the bullying from her classmates. So why does Mimiko suddenly show up? Simply because Pamu is angry and owns a cell phone? This is the only reason I can deduce. The narrative remains silent on this point and apparently expects the audience to do the heavy lifting here. Yes, there is the traditional notion that malignant spirits are often merely hovering about waiting for human hate and fear to emerge as a means for them to disrupt lives. (For example, see the recently reviewed Kokkuri.) But doesn't that simply amount to the sheer coincidence that Mimiko was hovering around Pamu at the moment of her death? I don't get it.
But wait! There's more. Director Manabu decides to add a third layer which is not only wholly unnecessary but also shows a complete ignorance regarding what he is depicting. From the prior films we know that the transmission of these curses uses cell phones. Okay, I can grant that. Its not any less plausible (??) than curse transmission via the internet (Kairo/Pulse), VHS (or Beta?? Ringu), TV broadcast waves (Dead Waves), or even cassette tapes (The Cursed Cassette Tape). In fact, I might be so brave as to suggest that the primary premise of the "One Missed Call" franchise involves phones (Skype included!).
Isn't the "phone" angle good enough? Brave enough? As a storyteller would't that be difficult enough for anyone who wishes to remain plausible? Apparently not. In the final act of the film, it is determined (out of the blue) that rather than the phone, Malevolent Mimiko's primary abode is the internet (too?). Why this shift? Only Hell and Manabu know. But when Manabu attempts to depict and resolve his "creative departure" from the franchise storyline, he lands us in sheer incredulity.
Internet aficionados brace yourself. Here's the set-up: Devilish Mimiko, who heretofore has been using cell phones, suddenly migrates to the internet, whereby she manipulates Asuka's computer. According to the "InterTubal Manual of Spiritiual [Dis]Position" (okay, I made that up), this obviously means that Mimiko is somehow confined to and contained within Asuka's computer. (???) The proposed solution is to destroy the PC. The only hitch is that everyone is in Korea, so they enlist the help of web-surfing strangers to attack the PC using... (drum roll please) EMAIL. That's right! Email with messages such as "We shall not be overcome!" and "Die! You Ghoulish Little Girl inhabiting that Japanese girl's PC!" and "pr0n rulz!". (Okay, I made that last one up).
Maybe this is too geeky a point, but anyone who knows anything about computers and the internet understands how absurd this premise is. You cannot kill someone's home computer by sending them lots and lots of email. Its simply not going to work, much less cause the computer to literally explode in a huge ball of flames like it does here. In any event, to bypass this doom, all little ghoulie Mimiko would need is a decent Spam filter. Then she could appear in another, fourth film where she haunts one of those cutting edge internet-enabled refrigerators. Then they could freeze her in an ice cube and ship her off to the North Pole. Hell in a Snowball.
Version reviewed: Region 2 DVD (no subtitles)
|Only if you're interested in seeing how the Chakushin Ari franchise peters out.||Hanging seems in fashion here, followed by electrical burns, (self) heart removal, decapitated heads (in tumbling dryers and so forth), and the sudden breaking of fingers and limbs.||Nada.||Despite my affection for this film's genre attempt, I cannot forgive its transgression of (a geek's) technological common sense.|