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Photo: ‘The Call’/Netflix
Ring, ring, ring. “Hello?” “Oh hey, what’s up, I’m just sitting in the same room as you– but in the past– what are you up to?” “Nothing much, just wishing my dad was alive again, just chillin, what about you?” Wiping the blood off her forehead, “Still having trouble with this witch lady, but I think I took care of it…hey do you want me to tamper with time and bring him back? That would be pretty sick…” In tears, “Oh wow, that would mean the world to me, thank you person from the past!” Dances to Korean metal music.
Based on the 2011 British and Puerto Rican film ‘The Caller’ and directed by Lee Chung-hyun, ‘The Call’ stars Park Shin-hye and Jeon Jong- Seo as two women who are from separate times but connect through a bulky cordless phone that intertwines their fates, all the while featuring angsty Korean punk and metal music. Colliding past and present across two decades, the girls exchange details about their lives.
They both experienced the loss of a parent, which retrospectively might have been some kind of emblem of unspoken trust and empathy between the two of them, allowing Seo-yeon to trust Young-sook maybe more than she should have–scratch that, definitely more than she should have. It’s like if the movie ‘Saw’ had a baby with the ‘The Butterfly Effect’, and then that baby called the guy from ‘Saw’ and said, “Hey, I’m your baby. Don’t ask how I can speak, I have a magic phone, idiot. Also, I will rip myself out of your scrotum and you will feel it in the present time if you disobey my demands..” To which he would respond, “Wait, won’t that mean you die too?” “Goo goo ga ga!”
After Young-sook discovers she can alter the past, subsequently altering Seo-yeon’s present, she ventures off to prevent the tragic fire that killed her new friend’s father, and is successful. But this friendship kindles a new flame, born of envy and neglect. Seo-yeon is happier than she’s ever remembered, reunited with her mother and father in their flourishing new life together, all the while leaving Young-sook to seep in the harrows of her much dimmer reality. Living with her mother who performs rituals on her, and violently punishes her for being on the phone, she grows resentment towards Seo-yeon.
In an act of self-defense, Young-sook commits murder but then proceeds to heinously murder anyone who might threaten her newfound freedom in the world. After doing research and revealing to Young-sook that she will be arrested for her crimes, she calls upon Seo-yeon to give her information so she can avoid being caught. Emotionally distraught, she refuses to help and the relentless heckle ensues like a live-action Tom and Jerry blood bath, whoever outsmarts the other survives–once again cue angst metal.
A Burning Call for Jeon Jong-Seo
While both actresses held impressive performances, I had recently viewed Jeon Jong-Seo in ‘Burning’, and I am just so captivated by her. She is something of a wild card, which really complimented her strengths as the demented serial killer in this film. She is a unique batter of precarious and silly, highlighted by an almost lackadaisical aloofness that distinguishes her from being pigeon-holed as the stereotypical damsel in distress or the vapid villain.
Her alarmingly playful attitude— whether she’s being touched by the heaviness of life’s fleeting beauty, or severing heads and placing them in black plastic bags to store in her refrigerator– is a whimsical waltz of magnetic endearment. She’s just so fun to watch, I almost imagine her occupying another dimension than the rest of us, evident in her body as she floats and sways in her own very idiosyncratic formula–like she’s tilting with the earth, rotating on its axis. She’s listening to music no one else can hear, and she doesn’t give a damn. Even in her anguish, she can make twisted funny.
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Allegorical Alternative Ending
In the film ‘The Butterfly Effect’, there were some editions that had alternate endings. This film wasn’t like that, as far as I can tell, but I picked up on something that I felt was pretty powerful–had it gone in that direction. In the film, Seo-yeon lost her father, and she blamed her mother for his death. She saw her as careless and neglectful, and shamed her for accidentally leaving on the gas that licked her father in flames till his death. In this timeline, her mother is suffering from a serious illness, and they are both filled with resentment and regret. When her father is brought back to life, her mother is vibrant and caring, heroic even.
When fate changed the second time around, shifting reality, she goes back to see her mother expecting it to be the way it was before Young-sook ever interfered–and found her to be the same kind, caring, flourishing version of herself that she became when her father was brought back to life.
It occurred to me that it could have easily been interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning. Seo-yeon had the same kind of internalized hatred for her mother as Young-sook did for her adoptive mother, she could have very well been a metaphor–and have not existed at all. Instead, she was a projection– a hologram for the hollowness in her heart to which a complex narrative. It would make sense, as her psyche desperately needed to contend with the grievances of her loss–and finally forgive her mother for the accident. A dark allegory for the absurd lengths our minds go when we are unconsciously processing intense emotions–to vie with tragedy that dismantles the soul, it often requires some paramount psychological symbolism, not just mere confrontation.
This is the power of stories and metaphor, they are perhaps the greatest tool we have for the mind. Maybe language paved a new era for the imagination that allowed us to process the emotional complexity of higher consciousness, posing as the quintessential accolade that separated us from our ape predecessors. The apparatus of allegorical content may have been the precursor for our evolution, as it were.
Another alternate ending idea! The guy from ‘Saw’ never actually had a baby, in fact, the baby was him–using the same bulky cordless phone from deep inside his mother’s womb, guiding him to convert to veganism before the antibiotics in his favorite beef stroganoff gave him the cancer that wracked his better judgment.
Now Streaming on Netflix. ‘The Call’, not ‘Saw’.
Director: Lee Chung-hyun
Starring: Park Shin-hye and Jeon Jong-seo
Producers: Syd Lim, Jeong Hui-sun | Written by: Lee Chung-hyun | Based on: ‘The Caller’ by Matthew Parkhill | Music: Dalpalan | Cinematographer: Jo Young- jik
Editor: Yang Jin-mo | Prod. Company: Yong Film
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Melissa McGrath is a writer for Hollywood Insider, offering rich and engaging content for reviews and features. Melissa feels at home with Hollywood Insider’s lively team who share an equal passion for the art of cinema. Having sought out compelling stories her whole life, she is eager to examine and share her observations with others interested in thought-provoking material. She believes in changing the world through meaningful dialogue and hopes to provide helpful insight with her work. She values open discussions concerning morality, culture, personal development, and holds a soft spot for cathartic humor. Through the art of storytelling, journalism, and cinema, Melissa seeks to help build a strong community of free-thinkers and cultivate a deeper understanding of the human experience.