Sunday, October 08, 2006

ONE MISSED CALL 2


Year:
2005
Cell phones can be scary in One Missed Call 2
Director:
Renpei Tsukamoto

Cast:
Mimura, Yu Yoshizawa, Asaka Seto, Peter Ho Yun-Tung, Renji Ishibashi
The Skinny:
The evil cell phone message of doom returns in One Missed Call 2, a slick sequel to Takashi Miike's hit film that looks a lot better than it actually is. If you've seen Ring, Ju-On, or The Eye, then you've already seen this movie. Really.
Reviewby Sanjuro:
Remember when Japanese horror films were innovative and even scary? Back when Hideo Nakata's Ring debuted, it irrevocably changed the landscape of Asian horror, inspiring a legion of imitators not only in Japan, but in Korea, Hong Kong, and Thailand as well. Quite a few of those films proved to be just as inventive and terrifying as their ground-breaking filmic predecessor, thus continuing this seemingly endless wave of Asian horror films flooding cinemas around the globe. But even as quality scary movies continued to be released in Asia, a larger glut of these pictures were little more than glorified B-movie rip-offs looking to cash in on the lucrative horror trend. Plots were recycled, images re-used, and fairly quickly, the horrifying figure of the pale-faced, long-haired woman in white popularized by the Ring and Ju-On films became a stock horror cliché. Although admittedly that image still holds some terrifying potency if utilized effectively, films that rely too heavily on these and other scare tactics without any understanding of what it takes to legitimately frighten audiences seem to be lowering the quality of Asian horror as a whole. While familiarity breeds contempt, uninspired familiarity breeds boredom and irrelevancy. In 2004, cinematic gore-meister Takashi Miike tried his hand at Asian horror with One Missed Call, featuring actress Kou Shibasaki in the lead role. Instead of a cursed VHS tape as was the case with Ring, the gimmick in One Missed Call was far more technologically advanced: after hearing a spooky ringtone, hapless victims received a prophetic message of doom on their cell phones and ended up dying a horrific death some three days later. Although the film was released to mixed reviews, it went on to become a huge box office hit in Japan, practically insuring the existence of One Missed Call 2, a quickie 2005 follow-up featuring a largely new cast. And the actors aren't the only thing that's new: Miike doesn't return for the sequel, turning over the directorial reins to television director Renpei Tsukamoto. However, considering both films, it's highly questionable whether any of these differences actually matters. In One Missed Call 2, the dreaded cell phone curse returns to wreak havoc on the lives of a young teacher named Kyoko (one-name only TV star Mimura) and her loyal boyfriend Naoto (Yu Yoshizawa). While enjoying a night out with friends at a Chinese restaurant, Kyoko receives an eerie call, but strangely, instead of dying three days later, tragedy strikes almost immediately and not to Kyoko directly. Since one of the deaths in the original film occurred on television, both Kyoko and Naoto are familiar with the urban legend and find themselves at a loss on how to solve the problem. Luckily for them, a plucky journalist named Takako (Asaka Seto) is on the case, enlisting the help of Detective Motomiya (a returning Renji Ishibashi) who's pieced together quite a bit about how the curse works. Refreshingly, Motomiya isn't the clichéd authority figure who immediately dismisses the supernatural in favor of a scientific explanation (an act of arrogance that serves as the veritable kiss of death in horror movies). No, Motomiya knows full well that the curse is real and applies his detective skills to the realm of the supernatural, saving not only characters, but the viewers some valuable time in "cutting to the chase." Their investigation leads Takao to Taiwan to visit her estranged husband (Peter Ho). It turns out that he's been researching the curse, too, and it's spreading throughout Asia like a virus. Thinking they've got the mystery solved, the heroes band together to undo the curse, but will they be successful? And if they are, wouldn't that hurt the chances for a sequel? While the plot described here may sound interesting and even logical, it doesn't play that way onscreen. Yes, the film is slick and the actors are pretty, but it's little more than disposable entertainment, if that. The reason why Takako goes to Taiwan seems to make sense at first (the ghostly villainess is shown to have Taiwanese origins), yet the filmmakers complicate it by suggesting that she has a ghostly predecessor - that is, there are two curses at play. Whether the older ghost in the sequel played an Obi-Wan Kenobi-like mentor in the afterlife to the ghost in the original One Missed Call is unclear, but the fact that they both use cell phones to dole out their portents of doom seems both highly coincidental and confusing. Even worse, the film doesn't seem to be very consistent on exactly how the prophetic cell phone messages affect people. Although it's clear from the early going that victims suffer a grisly death, it's then revealed that the call can also make people do bad things and not realize it. Add to that a confusing plotline involving Takako's supposedly dead twin sister, and the result is a muddled film with too many dangling plot threads to even approach comprehensibility. The main problem with the film, however, is how derivative it is. Literally, one could spend the entire movie listing all the swipes from other, better Asian horror films. Dark Water? Check. Ju-On and its sequels? You bet. In fact, the entire Taiwan segment borrows liberally from the Thailand portion of The Eye and even more shamelessly, from the Ring series (most notably, the infamous and iconic well). This reliance on imitation is so distracting that it creates a distance between the viewer and the film. "Suspension of disbelief" is vital for a horror film to work, yet because of these and other missteps, I never once forgot that I was watching a movie. The film is by no means unwatchable, and as a fan of Asian horror, I have to admit that I found that despite its extensive flaws, the film was somewhat engaging as it was happening. But let's not kid ourselves; this is little more than mindless "entertainment" meant to capitalize on the success of the first film. Rather than fulfill one's need for an Asian horror fix, One Missed Call 2 only reminds viewers of the films that started this trend in the first place - and it makes them wish they'd watched one of those flicks instead. (Sanjuro 2005)

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