Movie Review: Cello (2005) (aka Cello hongmijoo ilga salinsagan) is a Korean horror movie directed by Woo-cheol Lee. It’s about a former award-winning cello player who has turned her back on her instrument of choice and taken up a teaching position instead. Hyeon-a Seong stars as Mi-ju Hong, whose decision to lay down her bow forever seems to have been influenced by the dark secret she spends much of the movie trying to hide.

Hyeon-a Seong is a capable actress and quite easy on the eye, but Mi-ju is not an easy character to like. Because of this, many viewers may remain indifferent to her problems and fail to become drawn into the movie. She comes across as a little cold and uncaring and early conversations between Mi-ju and her husband, Jun-ki, indicate she feels she has not always been a good mother to their two children, Yoon-jin and Yoon-hi.

The Hongs live in a large house, protected by high walls and an iron gate. Everything about them suggests they are quite a wealthy family, but money isn’t everything. Emotion seems to be in short supply in the Hong household. Their eldest daughter, Yoon-jin, is a mute, who seems to have mental problems of some kind. The exact nature of her disability is never explained. Their youngest daughter Yoon-hi, who looks to be about five-years-old, is much livelier than her sister and is easily one of the most likeable characters in the movie.

The Hongs share their home with Jun-ki’s sister, Kyung-ran, played by Jin Woo. Kyung-ran is also one of the more likeable characters in the movie and she appears to show more emotion towards her nieces than their parents do. The scenes where Kyung-ran goes into a mental-meltdown after being dumped by her fiancé are particularly memorable and are arguably some of the best in the movie.

Mi-ju’s problems appear to begin after a confrontation with one of her students, who feels Mi-ju graded her unfairly in a music test. After the confrontation Mi-Ju finds a screwdriver sticking out of the side of the tyre of her BMW and soon begins receiving strange phone calls asking her, “Are you Happy?” Then stating, “You should be.”

The escalating string of events that follow initially seem to be part of a persecution campaign conducted by Mi-ju’s disgruntled student. Later it becomes clear many of the problems in the Hong household began when Mi-ju bought Yoon-jin a cello. Yoon-jin is never going to win any awards for her playing—it’s so bad it’s frightening—but she seems almost obsessed with her new toy.

While her daughter is busy committing her various monstrosities against music, Mi-Ju continues to have problems at work, gets further strange phone calls, and shows an unusual amount of animosity towards a mysterious tape that turned up inside her locker at work. The tape contains a recording of her former classmate, Tae-yeon Kim, playing the cello and it does not take too much imagination to realise that Mi-ju’s present problems may be connected with her dead friend.

A few of the scenes in Cello are pretty nasty and blood is spilt in a convincing way, but such scenes are few and far between so the faint of heart will not need to turn their heads away too often. However, some viewers may be distressed by the fate of little Yoon-hi. Her death is one of the most tragic scenes in the Cello horror movie and Mi-ju’s reaction to the loss of her daughter is so unlikely it borders on the ridiculous.

Cello is such a slow-moving movie it’s almost painful to watch it. There are a few chills along the way, but thrills are in short supply and it seems likely that many viewers may only resist the urge to pick up their remotes and eject the disc because they are curious about what the heck is supposed to be going on. Fortunately, it all becomes clear at the end, but Cello is a lacklustre movie that does not compare well with many better Korean horror movies, such as A Tale of Two Sisters.

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