Tell Me Something (1999) Movie Review

“Tell Me Something” is an interesting thriller about a serial killer who is offing (and then dismembering) the ex-lovers of a beautiful young woman. Not satisfied with just cutting them to pieces while they’re still alive, the killer delivers the bodyparts in black bags to different parts of the city to be discovered, and it’s up to the cops, led by Cho (Suk-kyu Han) to, quite literally, piece together the evidences.

Up front, let me say that “Something” is a laborious crime drama and its investigation is plodding at best and terribly dull at worst. With almost 2 hours of running time to play with, the movie can afford to develop its primary character, Han’s Cho, who we first meet as a disgraced detective taking bribes from the mob in order to pay for his mother’s hospital bills. Under investigation by Internal Affairs, Cho is informed by his higher-ups that if he can crack this case, he will have been redeemed. Rather this is true or not doesn’t seem to matter.

Writer/director Yoon-hyun Chang really takes the time to set up Cho as a person first, and a detective second, but unfortunately he fails to do likewise with the film’s other characters. Of particular note is Hang-Seon Jang, who plays Cho’s right-hand man Detective Oh. The Oh character is onscreen for a long time, sometimes proceeding with the investigation on his own, but we know next to nothing about him except that he likes peanuts. And I think he has a daughter. I think.

On more than one occasion “Something” threatens to become a South Korean version of David Fincher’s brilliant and atmospheric “Seven,” also about a serial killer and a plodding investigation. The rain-soaked streets and nights of “Something” are quite well done, and the film really excels in creating atmosphere and somber moods. Credit goes to cinematographer Sung-Bok Kim, who makes rain and star Eun-ha Shim look beautiful whenever they appear onscreen.

The film is bolstered by a “twist” ending that I didn’t see coming; actually, even the identity of the serial killer, who I was certain was a particular character, turned out not to be so. If just on those merits alone, “Something” deserves some brownie points. It’s not often that a mystery manages to keep its secret from me, but “Something” did, and its many red herrings are used to great effect. In fact, the film turns the tables on armchair Sherlock Holmes like myself more than once. Bravo for that.

The cast in “Something” is also strong. Leads Suk-kyu Han (“Shiri”) and Eun-ha Shim (“Art Museum by the Zoo”) had previously co-starred a year ago in a fantastic film about life and death and all things in-between called “Christmas in August.” There is a slight reversal of characters here, as Han steps into the role of a tough cop and Shim the femme fatale. Both carries their roles off well, although Shim’s docile portrayal of a woman stalked by an obsessed serial killer is sometimes snooze-inducing. Still, she’s charming and easy enough on the eyes to keep us riveted and interested in her plight and background.

Despite all of those pluses, there are a number of plot contrivances in “Something” that reek of lazy writing and threaten to torpedo the whole film. The most notable of these contrivances concerns guns. In one sequence of events, a cop gives his gun to a civilian for the civilian’s protection; moments later, the cop finds himself in dire straits because he doesn’t have his gun with him. Of course this is done in order to throw suspicion on the civilian as a suspect, but why in the world would a cop hand his (and apparently only) gun over to a civilian and then wander off into a dark, rain-soaked alley when he knows a serial killer is on the loose? If one foolish scenario wasn’t enough, the screenplay throws in yet another sequence where another cop hands his weapon over to someone else for protection, and then wanders off into a dark room with a serial killer on the loose!

Forgive me for saying so, but I believe it’s time to take another look at that South Korea police academy training manual concerning the possession of one’s weapon, eh?

Yoon-Hyun Chang (director) / Yoon-Hyun Chang (screenplay)
CAST: Suk-kyu Han …. Detective Cho
Eun-ha Shim …. Chae Su-Yeon
Hang-Seon Jang …. Detective Oh

Buy Tell Me Something on DVD