Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Movie Review: Whispering Corridors (1998)

Alternate Title: Yeogo Goedam
Starring: Lee Mi-Yeon, Kim Gyu-Ri, Choi Gang-Hee, Park Jin-Hee, Yoon Ji-Hye
Directed by: Park Ki-Hyeong
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
Rating: R
Running Time: 105 minutes
Synopsis: Life is what you'd expect for young teenagers at this seemingly normal private all-girls school, until a past alumni returns as a teacher. She strikes up a new friendship with two very different students and a horrific course of events ensues. A teacher is found dead, apparently having committed suicide, and circumstances that inextricably link both the past and the present are unveiled. As the body count rises, the memories of the deaths unleash the echoes of ghosts down the corridors.

Going into this movie, I tried to have no expectations. A few people had recommended the series that it's the beginning of. I'm not too fond of Korean horror in general. Most of the time, I don't find them particularly frightening in any way. I feel like they fail to build the necessary suspense for the scares that they attempt to deliver. I'm not sure whether this fault lies in the direction or the acting. In some cases, it's a combination of both.

Set in an all-girls school, Whispering Corridors had the potential to be quite interesting. Girls are filled with drama. They hold grudges and get easily wrapped up in petty things. Just those things have the ability to create a breeding ground for an intense psychological horror. With one particularly boring death by the seven minute mark, I was still willing to give it a shot.

Ji-Oh and Jae-Yi meet outside of the school. They're both obviously very different with Jae-Yi being shy and a bit awkward. Ji-Oh isn't without her own flaws. Other students believe that Ji-Oh can conjure spirits among not being one of the more popular girls. The two have been set up as the class clerks, required to arrive early to clean the classroom before homeroom begins. It's on this attempt to clean the classroom that the two girls find the dead teacher who has been hung from a walkway outside the school. The reveal of that death could have created a touching moment between the two girls who discovered it. Instead, it was quickly moved forward from.

We're set up with the new teacher for the classroom. The girls have been sworn to secrecy about the death as the school wishes to avoid any negative publicity. Any sympathy we could have had for the dead woman is quickly pushed away by the reveal that she was cruel to her students in the past. This is shown through flashbacks by the younger female teacher (also a former student of the deceased). In the meantime, the schoolgirls decide to try to conjure any lingering spirits...only to get hit in the face with an eraser by a male teacher. This moment was a bit comical until the male teacher decides to punish the whole class.

Fourty-five minutes into the movie, the plot picks up a little bit with the male teacher physically assaulting the same student he'd hit with the eraser earlier. The same teacher also seems fond of inappropriately making advances toward students. From there, it seems to get a little more dull. There haven't really been any advances in the plot. Aside from that first few minutes, the ghost has only been mentioned in passing (aka the students believe that the storage rooms are haunted.)

The next death doesn't happen until an hour into the film. By this time, I was a bit confused on what had happened. Apparently in Korean schools, teachers act as security guards to patrol the schools at night. An hour and twenty four minutes brings us another death and an unexplained body along with a bit of backstory about the ghost. By the time that you realize what is really happening, I'm not entirely sure if it makes a difference to the overall plot. It comes with only ten minutes remaining in the entire movie.

What could have been a poignant story of friendship found and lost ends up being a deficient horror. I'd have liked to have seen the friendship between Ji-Oh and Jae-Yi fleshed out as well as that of So-Young and Jung-Sook. We're supposed to care about these girls, but there's no reason to care about them aside from the way they're treated by their teachers. So-Young and Jung-Sook were set up as rivals for the class leader. There's obviously something connecting them, but we don't learn until very late that they're former friends who drifted apart. We see more of Ji-Oh and Jae-Yi together, yet it's not really enough to make it click as them being very close.

The female teacher was also someone who wasn't really used to her full potential. She was part of the key to the unveiling of the ghost. Even with the flashbacks of her time as a student, I felt no sympathy for her or any feelings toward her at all. The ghost didn't really get enough time for me to feel any connection to her. The bullying the girl suffered was shown in flashbacks, but again, I wasn't given enough screen time to really feel anything for her.

Overall, Whispering Corridors leaves me feeling disappointed. I've been left with questions regarding the rave reviews I'd heard of this title from friends. It's quite possible that I haven't been able to immerse myself into the world Whispering Corridors creates enough to have the reaction others have from this film. Give this one a chance if you're willing to be patient with the slow buildup and lack of depth.

Rating: 2/5

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