Tell Me Something
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|Tell Me Something|
|Hangul||텔 미 썸딩|
|Revised Romanization||Tel mi sseomding|
|McCune–Reischauer||T‘el mi ssŏmding|
|Directed by||Jang Yoon-hyun|
|Produced by||Koo Bon-han
|Written by||Kong Su-chang
|Music by||Jo Yeong-wook|
|Edited by||Kim Sang-bum|
Tell Me Something (Hangul: 텔 미 썸딩) is a 1999 South Korean mystery crime thriller film directed by Jang Yoon-hyun. It was an early South Korean film to find success abroad as part of the Korean Wave, and was selected to appear in the 2001 New York Korean Film Festival.
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Tell Me Something is a blood soaked film, although much of the violence occurs off screen. The story begins with a detective Jo returning to work after the death of his mother. He is accused of accepting money from a dubious source to pay for his mother’s medical treatment. He denies the accusation but his career is under a cloud and the film never definitely clears up whether he is innocent of this charge. (Although Jo does seem to allude to this to his friend, Detective Oh, which suggests he is willing to compromise legality in order to follow the higher morality of caring for a loved one.)
Detective Jo is soon put on the case of a serial killer who amputates the limbs and heads of his victims and seems to enjoy mixing up the body parts – swapping a new part into the body of each new victim. The trail of victims leads to beautiful young woman, Chae Soo-yeon, daughter of a famous painter. She was named as the next of kin of one of the victims, but it quickly becomes apparent that she knew each of the victims and had dated them in the past. Soo-yeon is an enigmatic character whose past is gradually revealed over the film as she becomes close to Detective Jo. Her only close friend, Seung-min a doctor whom she has known since high school, reveals that in the past Soo-yeon had tried to kill herself several times. This apparent fragility and victim status is subtly picked up by a painting in her country retreat which depicts her as Ophelia drowning (a recreation of the Pre-Raphaelite painting of the same name by Millais, seen earlier in the film). The body count mounts and Soo-yeon moves into Detective Jo’s apartment for safety signalling a growing trust between them. The relationship remains chaste if not quite professional with Jo acting as a protective knight. His complete trust is shown by him giving his gun to Soo-yeon and showing her how to use it.
In keeping with the tradition of serial killer films as the body count mounts the finger of suspicion moves from boyfriends and would-be boyfriends to Soo-yeon's absent father. It emerges that her father had abused her over a long period of time. It is also suggested that Detective Jo will be the next victim due to his growing closeness to Soo-yeon. Meantime, Detective Oh has found the apartment where the amputations / killings have taken place and naturally he is killed – although handily he manages to procure a photograph which provides a crucial clue for Detective Jo to reach the final denouement. A show down in Tower Records in which both Soo-yeon and Jo survive seems to indicate a happy ending. Soo-yeon bids a warm farewell to Jo, thanking him for surviving and sets off for Paris. Jo later realizes that Soo-yeon is in fact the killer, and has sewn together limbs from each body into one which Jo finds suspended in an tall aquarium in her living room. He breaks the class, causing the water to knock him down. He is shown on his back, wet and with palms outstretched in a recreation of the Ophelia pose. Soo-yeon's plane takes off to Paris, and she tells the man sitting next to her that it is her first time to Paris despite having stated earlier in the film that she had studied art there.
In his essay "Horror as Critique in Tell Me Something and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," Kyu Hyun Kim writes that Tell Me Something plays with the idea of scopophilia in order to comment on both male gaze and the horror genre. He cites Laura Mulvey as asserting of the horror genre that "the female body tends to be objectified by the male viewer... resulting in 'fetishistic scopophilia', the pleasure derived from looking at the female body, idealized as a beautiful and perfect object, and sadistic voyeurism, which stems from the fear of castration" (Kim, 107). Soo-yeon's father derives fetishistic pleasure from making the young Soo-yeon stand for painting and photographing her. Her college acquaintance and stalker also photographs her to build a shrine, and Detective Jo repeatedly gazes at her via surveillance camera. The painting that scared Su-Yeon as a child and appears over the opening credits is a recreation of The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt, which in turn references De humani corporis fabrica, recalling the anatomy theater of the Renaissance. Kim writes that Tell Me Something directly engages the idea of scopophilia to purposefully draw attention to horror spectatorship and play with the voyeuristic nature of the viewer.