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DVD Review

Ghost School Quartet Box Set


Starring: Choi Kang-hee, Kim Gyu-ri, Lee Young-jin, Park Ye-Jin, Song Ji-hyo and Park Han-byul
Tartan Asia Extreme
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: 15
Available 26 May 2008

Hot on the heels of the excellent Asia Extreme Originals Box Set containing The Ring, Dark Water and Premonition, comes this four-disc loosely-linked box set of supernatural tales set in and around high schools.

When a young woman takes a teaching job at her old school she finds that the past and present have become inextricably intertwined. Ji-oh is a female pupil who can psychically contact the spirits but is not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, so to speak. She is the subject of regular violence from a male teacher, and this shadows an event which took place seven years earlier when the new teacher's best friend, Jin-ju died after being locked in an old storeroom by a female teacher. Now that teacher is found hanging from the building. What was initially thought to be a suicide turns out to be something much more sinister. The new teacher discovers that Jin-ju's photo appears in two yearbooks. Could the dead girl still be attending class...?

Whispering Corridors has the potential to be something a lot better than it actually is. However, the fact is there's no distinction between past and present scenes, and it gets so messed-up and confusing that I don't even know if I've got the synopsis right. There isn't enough tension built during the main moments; much of the film is pure dialogue, and there's only one graphic horror scene which comes well before the conclusion. Even the occasional Exorcist-like bit of piano music can't lift a scene which has little substance.

The trailer says, "Discover the film that started the Asian horror explosion." If this is true, I can't imagine this one starting a conversation, let alone a horror explosion. As a fan of East Asian horror I so much wanted to enjoy this film, but such is the high standard of previous releases to judge it by that Whispering Corridors is nowhere near worthy of being compared with The EyeThe Ring, Ju-on: The Grudge, Dark Water, or even the lower standard but still good Shadow of the Wraith.

I'm making this film sound like its not worthy of consideration. That's not true. It's not by any means a bad film, but anyone wanting to be introduced into the creepy world of Asian horror should avoid this and pickup one of those examples mentioned above.



At the girls' high school to which she attends, Mih-Ah finds a diary shared by two other girls. Intrigued, she secretly keeps it, delving deeper into their lives and emotional state. What initially seems to be a close friendship turns out to be an altogether different relationship. When one of the girls publicly announces her feelings at the school, the other feels seriously betrayed, resulting in her suicide leap from the roof of the building. However, there are sightings of the girl after her death, and sudden events make the students of the school fear for their lives. Mih-Ah finds the key within a passage in the diary: Memento Mori, which means Remember the Dead. The girl is back and only Mih-Ah suspects what she wants...

Memento Mori is a difficult movie to quantify. Although promoted as a horror film it only metamorphoses into such during the last quarter of the film. Up to that point you'd be hard-pressed to even call it an emotional suspense story. How on earth did it obtain an 18 certificate when there's little or no violence, no true horror, and the only sight of blood is a bit of theatre stuff splashed near the suicide victim's body? Put succinctly, Memento Mori isn't scary in any way.

I see this as a work of lost opportunities. The diary itself looks varied and interesting in its design and subject matter; you can imagine opening it up every day to find something new. But when Mih-Ah discovers the pill in its spine and swallows it only to find the passage "I'm still working on the antidote," there's no attempt to explore that fear or unrest - what's it actually doing to her.

The stash of keepsakes in the piano is a nice touch, but the discovery of the antidote comes as too much of a convenience and she takes the new pill without knowing if she was ever in any danger. The supernatural lock-in at the school could have been handled so much better. There is no tension as the students press themselves against the glass doors, and when Mih-Ah is knocked to the ground in the panic she simply and inexplicably stays there allowing herself to be repeatedly trodden on.

For promotional purposes Memento Mori has been used in the same breath as The Eye (a personal favourite of mine), The Ring (an obvious classic), and Audition (which recently got an airing on terrestrial TV). Let me tell you that this offering, whilst watchable, is not even worthy to kiss the feet of those Asian greats.



Close to a residency girls' school are some ancient steps. Local legend has it that once you have counted your way up the 28 steps a 29th one may occasionally appear, and if it does you can ask the steps to grant you a wish. Jin-sung and So-hee are close friends at the school, but the former evolves the relationship into something approaching possession. She even wishes from the stairs that they would always be together. Both attend ballet lessons and So-hee sees a competition (the winner of which will be sent to a Russian ballet school) as the means for a clean break. During an argument Jin-sung is shrugged off by her former friend and falls down the school staircase to her death. So-hee wins the ballet competition but is shunned by the other students, who see her as being responsible for the other girl's death. Most upset is Hae-Ju, an overweight girl ridiculed by everyone except Jin-sung, who had treated her sympathetically. Hae-Ju is transformed by the stairs when she wishes for a loss of weight. Now Jin-sung is back from the dead and Hae-Ju is her tool of malice. Perhaps there is a way for Jin-sung and So-hee to be together forever after all...

Wishing Stairs is a supernatural tale of revenge from Korea that shares certain plot points with Whispering Corridors, while being infinitely more entertaining. That's because like every good story it concentrates on the characters. We learn what makes the main players tick; how they think, and how others react to them. The ghost story and the urban legend are merely means to an end.

Although Wishing Stairs works very well it does lose control a couple of times and fall into the trap of what it thinks people are expecting to see. The floating ghost of Jin-sung, for example, and more specifically when she crawls through a window space in an almost exact copy of The Ring, in which Sadako crawls out of the TV. There's a fine line between paying tribute and outright plagiarism; whatever the case, there's simply no need for it in a film which quite comfortably sustains itself as it is. Okay, so there's no outright shocks, but it is entertaining and it is a people-story well told.



Young-uhn is a promising singer at music class in high school. Whilst practicing her vocals one evening after school, she is attacked and killed by the supernatural apparition of another girl. Young-uhn finds that her spirit is confined to the school building. The only person who can interact with her is her best friend, who can hear her but not see her. Another girl seems to know a little too much about ghosts and what has happened in the past. Can she be connected to the supernatural events taking place? Young-uhn doesn't know who to trust; least of all her possessive former singing coach, who has lost her voice and sings through her students...

In The Voice is another example of a film which suffers from trying to be too clever. The ultra-slow revelation of past situations cuts the linear form of the plot into so many diced pieces that you don't know what you're watching, and whether it's taking place now or in the past. Consequentially, you don't take much notice of anything. This story might have worked better as a half-hour short, but it definitely can't sustain a feature-length plot. There's far too much standing around, and so there's very little character urgency.



So, not a bad box set, but it might have been better to forget a linking theme and to include at least two quality films. What we have here is four average ones.

Ty Power

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