September 20, 2007


(1999, South Korea)

Two schoolgirls fall in love with each other, and are not about to hide the fact. An accident, or is it suicide, or murder? leaves one of them haunting the school and causing chaos... The discovery of her diary might hold the key to what happened.

What could have been just a retread of the first film, Memento Mori, sometimes called Whispering Corridors 2, now stands on its own, almost seperate from the rest of the series. While 1 was a good horror, 2 is a good film. It’s hard to classify, it’s good as a drama, it also delivers shocks, and is not without a little blood...

Beloved in South Korea, as evidenced by the huge recent 6 disc Ultimate Edition boxset, Memento Mori is also considered internationally as a good example of South Korean cinema. Successful for its portrayal of defiant characters, school life, and a girl-girl love affair.

It also revels in non-linear storytelling – a narrative form that has vexed some viewers of SE Asian cinema. For example, the back and forth storylines of Ju-On had to be toned down for the western remake as The Grudge. Many South Korean films use this fractured form at present. Memento Mori is so playful that you can almost make up your own story with all the scenes – but there aren’t too many clues as to what order they’re supposed to be in. By the end, I was doubting that the story had been in any sort of order from the very start, with scenes from dreams and fantasies thrown in as well.

From the underwater opening (a nightmare?) you soon know that this is a beautiful-looking film, and that not every scene is included for plot, but for mood. Two schoolgirls, an athlete Yoo She-eun, and a pianist Min Hyo-shin are in love. Gawky classmate, So Min-ah, finds her diary - a strange collection of poems, and pictures. As she reads it, we sometimes see the incidents the pages refer to. She discovers that the girls have been meeting in secret on the school roof.

But then we see an accident, a fatal one. Through clues in the diary and flashbacks from other girls and teachers we get a better idea of what caused it. At the same time, her ghost is stalking the school in search of the diary. As more people sense her spirit, and gossip why she’s dead, panic eventually grips the school…

This is easy to recommend as an interesting film, by two creative directors full of ideas. The lesbian storyline is probably new and strong stuff for South Korea, although it’s sensitively handled and not exploited (that’s if you ignore the bathtub scenes excised from the director’s cut – but these are still without nudity). The teacher’s treatment of pupils is shocking, part of the first film’s ‘tell it like it is’ attitude.

Technically, the cinematography makes the whole film very easy on the eye, and interesting – like the series of hospital visitors all reflected in an eyeball – I don’t think this scene was faked, just cleverly shot. The production was all shot on location, on a low budget and is slightly rough-edged. The most obvious sign being the few special effects are quite poor. But they somehow don’t spoil it at all. The acting of the young cast, the direction and the cinematography make it memorable. Together with the beautiful and mournful soundtrack, it’s even haunting.

The climax is maybe overlong and more successful for what's heard (screaming, thunder, music) rather than what happens. It successfully portrays being in the middle of a panic-stricken situation. The confusing structure of the film are is the only other weakness. But that makes it more of a mystery. It’s a drama, but has enough cheeky shocks to keep ghost fans happy, if not horror fans.

Having enjoyed the Hong Kong region 3 DVD (pictured at top), I then purchased the Korean 6-disc (5 DVDs) Ultimate Edition at a very reasonable price - a boxset that can only be kept in a box! There’s an excellent transfer of the film with English subtitles on disc 1. While the rest of the set is unsubtitled. Except for one of the director’s early films, also set in school, also exploring the problems that young lesbians face in society, also starring a rather more boyish-looking star of Memento Mori. Disc 2 has the three-hour director’s rough cut. Disc 3 behind the scenes. Disc 4 earllier short films. Disc 5 is an HDTV tranfer included as an MPEG, disc 4 is a CD soundtrack. There’s also a hardback replica of the diary included, but without the pills tucked into the spine…

I'm pleased to say that the film is now also available on region 1 and region 2 DVDs, misleadingly under the Tartan Asia Extreme banner label.

So far in the Whispering Corridors series...

WHISPERING CORRIDORS (1998) Black Hole review here


THE WISHING STAIRS (2003) Black Hole review here

VOICE (2005) Black Hole review here

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  1. OMG! where did you get the memento mori ultimate editon?!!! i want a copy of the diary too!! please...

  2. I think I got the boxset from YesAsia over a year ago - or possibly a link from a fan in the SnowbloodApple forums...