Tell Me Something (텔 미 썸딩, Chang Yoon-hyung: 1999)

Detective Cho is on the case of a particularly horrific serial killer – victims are found chopped into pieces which are mixed up with other victims and then left to be found by members of the public. As the limbs are collected they seem to form a pattern which suggests who the next victim will be and Detective Cho finds that he must sort his way through this evidence as well as deal with accusations of wrongdoing from his office, protect a potential victim and plough through a string of unconvincing redherrings to uncover just who the killer is…

Released in 1999 – the watershed year for local Korean cinema which, along with the likes of Shiri, Attack The Gas Station and Nowhere To Hide, signalled the start of what would become referred to by many as the ‘New Wave’ – Tell Me Something is an atmospheric police procedural serial killer story with obvious Hollywood influences that include the likes of Se7en and Basic Instinct.

The first thing that strikes you about Tell Me Something is that it is quietly confident filmmaking. With a noticeable polish to the cinematography and performances, director Chang Yoon-hyung is in no hurry to run through the story or to support its slow pace with any unnecessary ‘shocks’. This is both to the credit and to the detriment of the film which has in turn some rewardingly careful scenes as well as some badly judged flagging in its pace. What works best about the film is when the politics and procedures of the police department are at the forefront, and it’s when it tries to take a step towards its characters – a largely flimsy bunch of standard issue police, victims and suspects that it falls flat. That’s not to say that Tell Me Something has a bad bunch of actors at its core, because it doesn’t. Han Suk-kyu makes good use of his role as the Detective down on his luck and with a difficult case to handle. From the outset Cho is never a clean-cut hero as his murky past suggests some bribery, and this suggests that Tell Me Something is going to be cleverer than a simple black and white tale. It’s to the writers credit that they never let us know whether the allegations directed at Cho are warranted or not, even if the film fails to explore the grey areas that it suggests in the outset. Elsewhere Shim Eun-ha is fine but chooses to play the role aloof an understandable choice but one that makes drops in pace even more damaging.

Marketed largely as an ‘extreme’ flick, Tell Me Something will probably disappoint anyone looking for stacks of blood and gore. The filmmakers choose to go for atmosphere over gruesomeness although there are a handful of very bloody scenes – including a nightmare journey in a lift – that are all the more powerful for being isolated. The image of a scalpel and an armpit in the opening credit sequence of the film is pretty much unsettling enough to set the darkest of tones for the entire duration, and there’s another small piece of information regarding this scene – which I won’t reveal here – that cements that nastiness.

Where Tell Me Something falls flat – and the resulting outcome being a film that feels merely average and neither clever or complex – is in the story. It’s never really interesting enough so that while some atmospheric scenes are enough to keep you interested, the backbone of the whole thing is pretty unconvincing. Tell Me Something opts for a few false moves in order to try to throw you off of its main plot device, but when the final credits start to roll it becomes obvious that, while committed,  the twists and turns themselves haven’t really been too inspired and don’t particularly make sense. There’s also little to show for them except plot-holes – and we’ve also seen them all before.

It’s certainly an average film but it’s also difficult to be too critical of a film like Tell Me Something because it confidently works through its serial killer investigation and knows exactly where it’s headed, misguided or otherwise. It’s very much weakened as it’s a ‘police thriller’ made under the guise of a ‘serial killer shocker’ and so never really feels as direct as it should be. Maybe it was the intention of the filmmakers to side-step expectations, but with five scriptwriters credited the nagging suspicion is that the central concept was maybe spread a little too thinly to try to cover ground covered by the dramas, thrillers and horrors that it touches on rather than digging in to its characters and plot and that they were a little too confident in their over-elaborate finale.

텔 미 썸딩 (Tell Me Something)
Directed by Chang Yoon-hyung
Produced by Koo Bon-han , Chang Yoon-hyun
Written by Kong Su-chang, In Eun-ah, Shim Hye-won, Kim Eun-jeong , Chang Yoon-hyun
Starring Han Suk-kyu, Shim Eun-ha, Jang Hang-sun, Yum Jang-ah, Ahn Seok-hwan

Tell Me Something Image © Ku & See Film Co