AHN BYUNN-KI IS THE aspiring master of South Korean horror. His directorial debut, Nightmare (2001), earned him praise and his second effort, The Phone, is the highest grossing horror movie in South Korea, making HK$92 million. On his first visit to Hong Kong, Ahn has two missions: promote The Phone and sell the distinctive charms of Korean horror. 'Horror is a new genre for the Korean film industry,' says Ahn. 'And its spirit best represents the nature of Korean society. Although the plot of Korean ghost tales is more or less the same as other cultures, one special thing about Korean films is that there are only female ghosts. This is because the status of women in Korea is generally low. They are suppressed by society. Tradition has it that when women die they become angry ghosts to show their hatred towards our society.' Ahn created The Phone based on this myth. Reporter Ji-won (Ha Ji-won) gets a new mobile phone number. Its first call is answered by her friend's daughter, Young-ju (Eun Seo-woo), and after that Young-ju experiences some drastic personality changes and starts harming people. When Ji-won investigates the history of the phone number, she discovers it has been 'possessed' by a female ghost, and that previous users of the number have died a horrible death. Although phones have been used in myriad movies as a medium for transferring the powers of evil - from Dial M For Murder to Ringu - Ahn insists his use of the phone is still innovative. 'It is particularly horrifying, as the mobile phone has become a daily necessity. Almost everyone has a mobile phone, plus it represents modernity,' Ahn explains. A long-time horror movie buff, 35-year-old Ahn founded his company, Toilet Pictures, after studying film at the Seoul Institute of Arts and working as an assistant director for Jung Ji-young on White Badge (1992), Life And Death Of The Hollywood Kid (1993) and Black Jack (1997). Ahn says the challenge of making films scary is what drew him to the genre. 'It's difficult because this kind of horror doesn't exist in real life. It requires a high level of skill to make what is unreal look real,' he says. 'But the most important thing is to write a good script, because that's where the frightening effect comes from.' As part of his research, the writer-director watched numerous horror flicks and says he found inspiration in movies such as The Sixth Sense (1999) and The Omen (1976). But he says The Phone has a strong Asian feel, relying on atmosphere and psychology. 'The style is closer to Ringu and [three-part Asian horror film] Three,' he says, before warning ominously: 'My next film will be my scariest.' The Phone opens on January 16.