Friday, October 5, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Whispering Corridors (여고괴담) (Yeogo goedam) (1998)

Whispering Corridors is a slow-paced ghost film set in an all-girls school in South Korea. It is a fairly blatant critique of the school system in South Korea, which seems to push these girls to their very limits to succeed, while basically torturing them both emotionally, mentally, and physically to get the grades and find success. It shows how girls who are friends can be turned into enemies and how some resort to suicide as the only escape from a very broken system. One of the more fascinating themes to be shown in this movie is the physical abuse some of the girls endure, especially at the hands of teachers. It's a sobering look at an incredibly strict learning environment that seems to cause more harm than good to the students.

This film, although well put together and with a lot of meaning imbued within it, is not exactly a horror film, unless you count it as a horrors within the system kind of film. It's never scary, never really becomes anything more than a critique, and moves incredibly slow for a relatively short movie. It dragged in places to the point of becoming less than interesting. There are long periods with no dialogue, when nothing happens, and I really feel that some of those scenes should have been cut, just so that a consistent and good pacing could be found.

That being said, this film is very good in general. It works as both a critique of the school system and as a narrative (even if it doesn't make a ton of sense). The serious tone of the movie is set by both the characters and the direction of the film, and the blue-tint throughout a good portion of the movie seems to set up the darkness of both the plot and some of the characters. The characters who stand out as the darkest are the older teachers Mrs. Park (Old Fox), and Mr. Oh (Mad Dog), who seem to torment some of their students to get them to succeed. Both seem to have the idea that they can pick and choose which students will succeed and which will fail, and that ultimately proves to be both of their undoing. Mrs. Park dies within the first five minutes of the film, trying to solve a mystery that isn't solved until the very end. But it seems that she was less than innocent in the affairs of the school, driving friends apart so that one of the girls would succeed while the other seemed destined to fall into obscurity. It's a sobering environment, one where the winners and losers of the system are chosen, and that any threat to their continued success has to be removed forcefully from their lives. Mr. Oh, on the other hand, is physically abusive to the girls in his class, hitting them, calling them awful names, and pushing them around. He's also actively known as a pervert, overtly hitting on the smartest girl, caressing her, and ultimately being the biggest creep imaginable. He receives his comeuppance in the end as well.

The rest of the film revolves around three students and a female teacher at the school. The teacher, Hur Eun-young, used to be a student at the school, and envisions herself being a better teacher than the ones she had. She represents a better life for the students and a new way for the students of South Korea. The three students, Young Jae-yi, a quiet and socially awkward girl, Lim Jae-oh, a confident girl with a traditional background who wants badly to be an artist, and Kim Jung-sook, a very unpopular girl striving to succeed. There's also another girl, Park So-young, who plays the important part of the popular and most intelligent student, who receives the wrong attention from Mr. Oh, but is treated well by Ms. Hur. These characters and their stories all intertwine to give a compelling story of the school and its problems.

I'm not going to go much into the story. It's a good watch, and I'd rather not spoil everything. There's a ghost in the school driving the deaths of the teachers, a suicide occurs, and Jae-oh tries desperately to realize her dream of being an artist despite others seeing her art as abominable. In general the movie works quite well. It is both good quality, has pretty good acting, and works quite well at what it's trying to do, although it is pretty obvious what the movie is saying and why it's saying that.

I'd recommend this movie wholeheartedly, just don't expect a scary horror film. This is much more of a critique than something unspeakably horrific. Keep that in mind, and the film really comes off as something intensely good and unforgettable.

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