LKFF: ‘Handphone’ and Q&A session with director Kim HanMin

handphone 2009 posterBefore the film, Kim Han Min introduced the film. He revealed that when originally released in 2009, he was disappointed with the reception and profit it made, but that he was pleased to have the opportunity to have it shown once again to an audience.

Review: The film starts off with manager to models and actors, SeungMin (Uhm TaeWoong), buttering up potential business clients and film producers in a seedy looking noraebang. SeungMin appears to be a brash and bold young man, dressed in a bright blue suit and not afraid to do whatever it will take to reach the top. As he leaves the noraebang, we seem him write down a number which he safely puts away (remember that for later!) The opening scene clearly sets up SeungMin’s character as a cocky and opportunistic man, who is willing to reach his goals even if it means being underhanded.

Although bold on the outside, we can see that SeungMin has a caring side from an early scene with his wife, JeongYeon (Park SolMi). He is obviously either blind to, or choosing to ignore, the fact that his wife is deeply unhappy with their relationship. By suggesting that they have a child, SeungMin feels that this will give his wife all she desires, though she clearly feels ignored by him. “But I told you I’ve stopped drinking coffee” she attests as he badgers her to drink expensive coffee he bought her. Their relationship is well acted and the dialogue between them is a great indicator as to the state of their relationship. The story really starts going when SeungMin’s young actress, JinA (Lee SeNa), who is his hope of hitting the big time, is videoed having sex with one of SeungMin’s other talents, model YunHo (Kim NamGil). YunHo sends the video via phone to SeungMin, demanding blackmail money.

handphone 2009 2

After SeungMin hands over the money in exchange for the original copy in a coffee shop, he follows YunHo back to his home, suspecting there are other copies. With his comedy relief assistant, DaeJin (Hwang BoYeon), they pour liquid glue onto YunHo and threaten to light him unless he reveals the whereabouts of other copies. Once they have these they leave. Feeling triumphant, SeungMin enjoys a brief moment of euphoria until he realises he left his phone in the cafe they were at earlier. Remember the phone has the video of JinA sleeping with YunHo on it. This is where SeungMin’s real troubles start.

After desperately searching for his phone, he calls it to find a creepy and strange voice answering. SeungMin becomes angry, and the man on the phone will then only talk to SeungMin’s wife, JeongYeon. JeongYeon is visibly disturbed by the man’s tone of voice and suggestions, “Are you tall? You’re voice is low, I’d knew you’d be a tall woman”. The man on the phone begins to lead SeungMin on a wild goose chase, telling SeungMin he must mind his manners if he ever wants his phone back. The tone of the film up to this point is consistent, and a good pace is kept. Not knowing the identity of the man behind the voice on the phone creates good tension.

handphone 2009 3

Eventually, the identity of the man on the phone is revealed by the director. He is Jung LeeGyu (Park YongWoo), a long suffering E-Mart employee, who never speaks back and always takes abuse from customers as he always follows the code of ‘the customer is always right’. Kim Han Min makes a good job of making the audience feel sympathetic for LeeGyu, he seems like a man who tries his best, but is always stepped on. In the Q&A session, one of the audience pointed out that SeungMin appeared hard on the outside, but caring when with family, but LeeGyu appeared caring to the public, but when he had anonymity, became someone completely different. This was an interesting point and became more apparent as the film went on. Even so, I couldn’t help but feel for LeeGyu and all the pressures he faced, not only from work, but from his sick mother and grief stricken sister. This made it confusing later when LeeGyu’s actions took a turn for the more extreme.

Around this point the film’s tone changed slightly. LeeGyu gets SeungMin to punish those who’d abused him at work with the promise of him handing the phone back. SeungMin running around punishing those LeeGyu wants him too is quite humorous at times. The changes in tone of the film throughout are quite distracting and take you out of the atmosphere of the film as you begin to wonder if this was in fact meant to be a comedy from the beginning. While you start to think you should be laughing, the atmosphere changes again as SeungMin becomes more desperate, and the pressures placed on LeeGyu cause him to explode. And of course, there’s the number SeungMin wrote down at the beginning of the film which changes the dynamics yet again. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but be prepared to be left slightly confused as to the direction the film takes.

handphone 2009

Class Report: I think I may have been one of a few people in the audience who enjoyed it more than others. The friend I went with was also left feeling a bit confused about what they thought of the film. I think one of the problems with the film is that it tries to fit in too many themes and ideas. It wants to be funny, violent, tense, edgy, but it’s just too much for one film. I wanted to enjoy it, and I certainly did in some parts – like SeungMin smashing the car up and the confused parking attendant, and at the beginning when a security guard catches SeungMin being harassed by gangsters. However, when it finished I couldn’t quite work out if I liked it or not. I think the ending was a little too overblown and dramatic. Also, as I partially sympathised with the character LeeGyu, the turmoil he faces at the end and the violence that happens left me confused, again. I give this film an……………

OK star

Q&A:

After the Q&A session, Kim Han Min was given a birthday cake, as it was his birthday the next day. He looked surprised and happy, and we all wished him a happy birthday.

Thanks again to the London Korean Film Festival for organising the event and letting us have the opportunity to talk with the director.

(all images credit to hancinema)

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