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Original Title:
Yeogo goedam

South Korea 1998

Horror, Drama

Park Ki-Hyung

Kim Gyu-ri
Choi Se-yeon
Lee Mi-yeon
Park Jin-hie
Yun Ji-hye
Park Yong Soo
Shin Yi
Kim Min-jung

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Whispering Corridors

aka High School Girl's Ghost Story

Story: A teacher hangs herself at an all-girls-school. Colleagues and students think that this incident is quite strange, and soon rumors start to be afloat, that the ghost of the student Jin-ju, who tragically lost her life at school 9 years ago, haunts the school corridors.
However, student Ji-oh (Kim Gyu-ri) and her new quiet, timorous friend Jae-yi (Choi Se-yeon), as the rest of the students, have different problems than ghosts. They get beaten by their teachers, are sexually harassed and have to deal with an incredible amount of learning matter. Rivalry in class is enormous. Beautiful, as well as smart girl So-young (Park Jin-hie) isn't just the best pupil in class, but also stands at the top of the personal list of teacher "Mad Dog".
As a replacement for the deceased teacher, Hur Eun-young (Lee Mi-yeon) is sent to take over the class. Hur was herself a student at this very school 9 years ago, and at that time was also the friend of Jin-ju, whose ghost is still said to be haunting the art room. This is also where Ji-oh and her friend Jae-yi indulge into their passion for art. But soon strange things are happening. Maybe this is all somehow linked to student Jung-sook (Yun Ji-hye), who always seems to be lost in thoughts?

Review: "Whispering Corridors" is somewhat of a classic of the genre and tells an almost typical horror story, which origin lies deep within the myths and tales of Korean culture. In fact, the movie manages to create a tense atmosphere with its dark mood, but those who expect to see a real horror film might get really disappointed in the end. Actually, there isn't a single scene that can be considered truely scary, sometimes the B-movie look becomes quite apparent, which no wonder if you take a look at the low budget, and the pacing is also dragging a lot. Nonetheless, despite all that the first installment in the "High School Girl's Ghost Story" series, which should get several sequels later on, is everything but bad. That is because "Whispering Corridors" is strongly working on a socio-critical and psychological level of horor. Actually, this makes the movie different from what we thought the filmmakers wanted to provide us with, but those who can put up with the fact that this is more of a drama than a horror shocker, will find this to be an extraordinary movie.

Director Park Ki-Hyung shows the true face of Korean schools. Teacher beating and mistreating their students, immense pressure and rivalries among students, and pupils who bully each other - all these facets of a modern nightmare can be found here drawn in all of its details. So, it doesn't come as a surprise that officials were eager to prevent this movie from ever hitting the big screen. But luckily they had no success. "Whispering Corridors" became a box-office hit, mostly because teenagers could recognize their own reality and everyday life on screen.
For many westerners, the picture of the school system we get too see here might be quite shocking. Director Park brings the true horror at Korean schools onto screen in a very subtle way and in all of its shapes and forms. This is what proves to be the real strength of the movie, eventually. The drama part of the story is truely moving and can shake you up. And if there isn't anything else to learn from this movie, you should at least realize that it's not a good idea to sent your child to a Korean school...

What's interesting is, that the whole movie solely plays at school. Of course, one reason for that is the limited budget, but another reason surely is that the filmmakers wanted to show, that life for the students take place at school and nowhere else.
Dark corridors, a blueish sheet of color that is laid over the picture, at times unconventional camera work and a fitting soundtrack make this movie apparently a successful horror flick. But, as already stated, the horror itself fails to be present most of the time, even though the atmosphere might set the stage for it quite well. However, we still have the almost archetypical role of a protagonist, who is going to the bottom of the tragical incidents that caused the haunting of the school. In this case, Eun-young is taking on that task. It's just unfortunate that otherwise she remains a blank sheet and two-dimensional at best, as she simply seems to be a tool to get the story going. Furthermore, it's odd, that we never actually see her working in class. Well, there may be teachers who like to stay absent from class, but surely not in Korea.

It's easier to relate to Kim Gyu-ri as a self-confident artist with a latent supernatural talent, or timid Jae-yi, played by Choi Se-yeon, who a few years later should make herself known under the name Choi Kang-hie for her role in "My Scary Girl", for example. Nonetheless, you can't overlook the fact that almost any of the actresses are some true eye candy. Which brings up the question, if it is really allowed in a strict, hierarchically structured school system to style themselves like that!? Well, the (male) viewer won't be bothered by it.

The film's story often might seem a bit confusing, and if you still have problems to keep apart Asian faces or names (at first, we all have these problems), then you might find this movie to be a bit frustrating, since you will miss out on several things. Especially towards the end, standing in contrast to the very slow-paced rest of the film, developments are piling up and if you can't keep track of events you might end up with a lot of question marks above your head when the credits roll. At least, that was what happened to me at first. Now, a few years later and several Asian movies later, that can surely sensitize you for certain structures in storytelling, this film actually proves to be impressively consistent and clever. There are no answers left open, the director for a long time misleads us concerning the ghost's true identity, and there is a nice twist at the end. Another storythread we are introduced to throughout the film also fits into the picture seemlessly and makes for a nice ending.

Despite the fact, that "Whispering Corridors" is more of a socio-critical drama, that wants to make us get aware of certain sore points in Korean society, there are also some dead and a little blood to be seen, just like it is supposed to be in a horror movie. Still, as already said Park Ki-Hyung's work can't really stand as a horror flick. His movie "Acacia" should prove to have the same problems and also focused more on the psychological and dramatic aspects of subtle horror, the kind humans summon up themselves, and thus this approach to the matter simply seems to be part of Park's style. Therefore, if you don't expect to get to see a real horror movie, then you will find a lot in this actually profound, critical work about friendship, seclusion, depersonalisation and tyranny at Korean schools.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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