One summer, mysterious black bin bags start to appear around the city of Seoul, filled with body parts from more than one corpse. Detective Cho (Han Suk-kyu) is being investigated by Internal Affairs after it was discovered a known criminal was paying bills for him, but as the best detective in Homicide, he finds himself in charge of the investigation. As he investigates, he discovers the one connection between the victims – they all used to date Chae Su-yeon (Shim Eun-ha), a quiet and beautiful museum curator. Somehow this may all tie in the body of a young boy found in the street after falling from a building.
Tell Me Something has had quite a strong cult following for a while now, a cracking film held in high regard by genre fans but practically unknown in the mainstream. Now it has finally achieved a UK release, hopefully it may start to get some of the reputation it deserves – a twisty and bloody thriller that demands multiple viewings and able to provoke as much discussion as Donnie Darko.
The film initially starts off as a relatively straightforward serial killer film in cod Hollywood style, with particular echoes of Se7en. It’s in the first half hour or so that the film is least successful, as the viewer tries to keep up with a lot of information being fed very quickly, and then settles down for a standard policier investigation. The pace actually starts to drop of a bit here, and not having seen the film for a couple of years I was beginning to wonder if this was one that had not aged well. I needn’t have worried, because once the character of Su-yeon is introduced things do pick up. The real turning point is a masterful and almost impossibly exciting sequence when Cho discovers the killer’s lair with a bank of video monitors, and then is attacked in the poring rain in a narrow alley by a mysterious car. From this point onwards, the film’s merciless grip is relentless and mesmerising. The plot relentlessly thickens, and there are many hugely memorable set-pieces, from the awesome motorway pile-up to a sequence that’s virtually Carrie in an elevator.
Whilst most of the early killings occur off-screen, Se7en-style, with just the gory aftermaths being discovered, the approach changes as the film progresses, and there’s at least one cracking murder sequence, as the film’s influences become less Hollywood, and more giallo. In addition to the greater emphasis on onscreen carnage, the gloriously outrageous twisty plotting, false ending, and emphasis upon childhood flashbacks are all purely in the best giallo tradition. The film is really great to look at, with crisp and moody photography by Kim Sung-bok. In addition, there is some highly assured use of music, notably the climactic use of Shostakovich’s Jazz Waltz familiar from Eyes Wide Shut, and an awesome remix of that perennial genre fave, Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand. The performances throughout are terrific, notably the two leads, with Han Suk-kyu nailing the driven detective with a shady past who finds himself increasingly drawn to the woman at the centre of the mystery. And in that central role, Shim Eun-ha is stunningly controlled, barely hinting at the depths of character that the climax hinges upon.
Where the film will inevitably divide audiences in that climax. Unlike a typical Hollywood film, Tell Me Something is a film not particularly enamoured with expository dialogue. The final series of twists are presented primarily visually, with little dialogue to help explain to the viewer what it all means, and director Chang Yoon-hyun is trusting in his audience’s ability to piece everything together. All the information you need is in the film, but you have to be paying close attention (and watch it more than once) to really get a grip on events – it’s almost as though Psycho had ended in the cellar without that awkward final psychologists explanation. Throughout the film, the close editing style requires the audience’s engagement and intelligence, rather than spoon-feeding information heavy-handedly. Personally, I find this approach quite invigorating and enjoy being challenged in this manner, I suspect a large number of people will simply look at it blankly, decide it makes no sense and that the film is therefore rubbish. Presumably those are the people for whom the Hollywood machine keeps churning out crap like Murder by Numbers and Taking Lives – frankly they’re welcome to them. I’ll take the moodily engaging world of Tell Me Something any day.
Tell Me Something finally arrives on UK DVD courtesy of Tartan, as part of their Asia Extreme range. The R0/PAL disc contains a decent anamorphic widescreen transfer that is perhaps a touch darker and softer than ideal, but by no means bad. The Korean DTS 5.1 audio is pretty good too – not the most involving track I’ve heard, but it does the job well. Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 options are also provided. English subtitles are player generated.
For extras, the ‘Behind the Scenes’ section turns out to be a selection of on-set footage from a number of scenes, each one set to an excerpt of the soundtrack. It ends with an interview with the director, and has a total running time of just under 9 minutes. Beyond that, there’s a music video and theatrical trailer, plus a booklet with film notes by Justin Bowyer. I had hoped that with 6+ years since it’s first release this might translate into some juicy extras, but sadly that’s not to be. Still, you get the DVD for the film, not the extras, and the film alone makes this well worth adding to your collection.