Judge Joel Pearce attended the Korean girl's school because of the ladies, but didn't figure on murders, ghosts, and prominent grain.
"Of all the places to die, why choose school?" -Mr. Oh
A very low budget film that has spawned two sequels to date, this 1998 Korean horror/mystery has a fascinating perspective on the experiences of high school girls. This perspective has been fashioned into a clever and metaphoric chiller, which admittedly works better as a mystery than a horror flick. Still, fans of the Asian horror genre will probably dig Whispering Corridors, as long as they don't expect oodles of gore.
Facts of the Case
After the mysterious apparent suicide of the evil Mrs. Park at a Korean all-girls private school, alumna Eun-Young Hur is hired on. As she observes the strange events surrounding the death, it becomes clear to her that Mrs. Park's death is somehow connected to the death of one of her friends nine years earlier, when she had been a senior in Mrs. Park's class. There is a ghost in the school, and both the teachers and their students are in terrible danger. In particular danger are Ji-oh, who has always been at odds with the sadistic Mr. Oh; So-Young, who has the looks and grades she needs to do whatever she wants and knows it; and Jung-Sook, a very creepy girl who refuses to co-operate with her teachers.
Often, the horror genre allows filmmakers to explore issues that are difficult to handle in other genres. Whispering Corridors is willing to get its hands dirty, leaping into issues of teen suicide, feminism, and the harshness of the Korean school system. High school is thorny under any circumstance, and unlike most teen horror films, the dangers of the supernatural at this school approximate what they suffer at the hands of their peers and teachers every day. The girls are pushed into competition for grades by their teachers, a competitive spirit that starts to permeate their social relationships as well. Mr. Oh, one of the only male characters in the film, is a violent, loudmouthed bastard, whose abuse of the girls is physical, emotional and sexual.
This context suggests a strong feminist metaphor. Most of the girls are artistically expressive, whether that be painting, sculpting or drawing. These creations are expected to have beauty and grace, and any attempts to subvert expectations are answered by violence and alienation. The girls are expected to become the same kind of creations themselves. They are expected to forego their social lives during senior year, study hard, and conform in appearance and attitude with the girls around them. Whispering Corridors cares about the girls who sit quietly in the corner, appearing to fit into these expectations while hiding something unique underneath.
With all of these mundane challenges facing them, the ghostly plot often fades to the background. In some ways, this is far less a horror story than a murder mystery. Is one of the girls responsible for the murders? Most of them have multiple motives. Though Whispering Corridors gets creepier as it continues, it never really settles into a suspense groove. The ending is excellent, one of those twists that you don't see coming but feel like you should have. The two sides of the plot come together nicely without feeling contrived.
The quality of the suspense excuses the lack of scary moments in Whispering Corridors. It's packed to the gills with social commentary, great characters who become much more than schoolgirl stereotypes, and themes that resonate really nicely with the subject matter. Whispering Corridors is wonderfully shot, too, effectively using camera motion and focus to control the viewer's attention. The performances are all excellent, with only a few minor missteps from the young female cast.
The disc is technically strong but lacks the valuable extras that Tartan Films have been putting in their Asia Extreme line. The video transfer is decent considering the low budget of the film. There is some edge enhancement and an occasional problem with horizontal motion. Dirt and a general lack of detail betray a careworn 16mm print. I have no way of knowing what condition this print was in when they got a hold of it, but I'm guessing they have done the best they could. Both surround mixes are solid, but often seem to be trapped in the front soundstage. The music has been well mixed into the rears, but ambient noise has not. It clearly came from a stereo source, but the dialogue is audible and the effects track has been conveyed well.
The only extra on the disc is a short photo gallery. It's nice that they added something on the disc, but eight pictures definitely feels like a token (and pathetic) attempt.
Although the only draw on this disc is the film, it's a film that deserves some attention. It isn't as famous as its follow-up, Memento Mori, but it deserves to be judged on its own merits. If this review has made Whispering Corridors sound intriguing, then don't hesitate to check it out. It isn't unduly suspenseful, scary or gory, but it has a worthwhile tale to spin and does so with plenty of depth and style. I am very much looking forward to Tartan Video's upcoming release of the sequel.
These girls have suffered too much already, and they are free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
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