Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Day Twenty-Eight: Whispering Corridors (1998) - Rank 3.5/5
If there's one thing I can say about South Koreans, it's that they're a dark people (if the films they create are any sort of indicator). Granted, my view my be skewed since I'm primarily familiar with the horror films they've produced (Bong Joon-ho's "The Host," "A Tale of Two Sisters," Park Chan-wook's "Vengeance Trilogy," etc.). A large part of this could be due to the industry breaking free of the highly-censored governmental control that began in the 1970's. The more the individuals are repressed, the more they revel in their creative freedom when they can, I suppose. Hence the wave of extreme cinema that has been reaching across the Pacific in the past decade.
"Whispering Corridors" was one of the first horror films of this trend. Unlike so many American horror films, Korean horror flicks tend to be largely satirical of the culture (often times they aren't intended as horror films at all - the shocking nature of the film is incidental). This film is a social commentary on the rugged competitiveness in the country's education system. Schools are run more like academic boot camps and students must meet with the demands of their harsh teachers (or so we're lead to believe based on the film - though quick research reveals that this is the case. Comparisons to America's academic achievements is embarrassing for us. Plus, the average teacher salary is slightly under $70,000 U.S. Hmmm...I wonder how hard it is to learn Korean...). It's for that reason that a student comes to the logical decision of killing one's teachers.
The plot is more complex than that, working out to be an elegant (and almost charming) ghost story. There's a great sense of macabre with some of the students, almost as if they're adolescent forms of Edgar Allan Poe characters. "Whispering Corridors" also maintains a fabulous atmosphere of dread for much of the film, showing a greater sense of sophistication for the genre than its American counterparts (which are frequently focused more of gore or "Gotcha! scares" than character development and mood). One interesting note: the film stock looks more like that of the early eighties than late nineties. I'm still not sure if it's merely due to a low budget or if it's a stylistic choice on the director's part. I'd like to think it's the latter.
Watch the Trailer