White: The Melody of the Curse
Posted by Holly
Here’s a bit of a non-confession: I love pop music. It’s not even a guilty pleasure. I’m in no way ashamed of this fact. I don’t care if it’s boyband jams from the 1990s, a trashy Ke$ha tune, or some obscure J-pop group – I will probably love it. So when I found out that there’s a horror film with a premise centered around an all-girl Korean pop group, I was pretty ecstatic. As far as I was concerned, it could go one of two ways: it could be fantastic, or it could be terrible in the most wonderful of ways. It was win/win for me.
Eun-ju, a former back up dancer, is now a member of the all-girl Korean pop group, Pink Dolls. The group routinely under performs and gets ignored by most major media outlets; this, plus the fiercely competitive nature of her fellow group members causes a lot of tension and strife within the band. Things seem to take a turn, however, when Eun-ju discovers an old tape of a scrapped music video for a song called White. The group’s manager latches onto the song, and their first performance with it is an instant hit. While this seems to be the break all of the girls were hoping for, there’s also something sinister about the song, and the fate of each girl who tries to sing it.
The first notable thing about this movie is the way it frames the vengeance at the center of its story. Unlike many other vengeful female spirits that have haunted the screen, this ghost is not focused on a death linked to sexual assault, domestic violence, or the death of a child. It is centered, primarily, around professional success. When it comes right down to it, that’s quite unusual. This ghost is enraged that her rightful work was stolen from her, and that these new girls are daring to sing it, and to take the credit for her writing. Her death is certainly part of why her anger is so potent, but it isn’t the main point. She doesn’t haunt the studio itself, or any of the other elements surrounding her cruel death; she haunts the song, possessively, because it belongs to her, and she will not allow others to take her creation from her. It’s almost difficult not to think she has a fair point here.
There seems to be some relative commentary about the Korean pop industry weaved into the story as well. While I may not know enough about Korean pop to know if the talk of the “sponsor” is commonplace, it is highly reminiscent of the more familiar concept of the “casting couch” in which women are expected to exchange sexual favors for success. Hollywood and pop music are certainly not known to be places that go out of their way to protect young girls – and certainly the tone surrounding the sponsor is ominous and looms over the girls, who want so much to succeed. The way the characters refer to this presence seems to come with equal parts reverence and repulsion. “Meeting with the sponsor” seems to indicate that they’re receiving new, better quality things that they couldn’t afford previously, but with a cruel judgment against Eun-ju when it is suspected of her.
While that is only a minor point, it does reflect the overall tension that exists between the girls in the group. The relationship between the girls is admittedly catty, but not entirely without substance. Even with the cutthroat nature of the group, there are small moments of vulnerability, such as when A-Rang breaks down, wondering why “the pretty face” can’t be the lead singer, betraying her own insecurities. The friendship between Eun-ju and Soon-ye is the real highlight of this film, however, as two people that can coexist in this industry and have a supportive, harmonious relationship. Their friendship provides the human touch this film needs in such a ruthless atmosphere, and shows the audience what is truly at stake when success ultimately does corrupt one member of it.
Eun-ju has something of an interesting arc as a character. She’s portrayed sympathetically, an older, yet determined and hard-working girl, who hasn’t given up on her musical dreams yet. We see her continuously try to take the high road among her group members, who enjoy aiming cruel taunts and criticisms at her; she does her best to save the girls from a grisly fate brought on by the cursed song. The most interesting part, though, is that all of this that we came to understand and care about in this character changes. Once she’s the only person left to sing the song, and she’s confident the ghost will not come for her, she becomes part of the machine that caused her so much pain; there is a sense that one cannot achieve the success she dreams of without becoming corrupted by it.
The movie has a pretty good pace, and a decent little mystery that sticks in your mind throughout and keeps things moving. It doesn’t feel like it really drags at any point, and while I think the ultimate story of the ghost could have been told in a way that was less confusing to follow, it does provide a few twists and turns. The final little twist in the last scene even caught me by surprise, as it brings back up a small detail from early in the film that I had forgotten about. Also: the song is just so damn catchy.
While this isn’t the most sophisticated, intelligent, or even scariest film I’ve seen by a long shot, I think it’s a competent and highly entertaining film. There are solid scares peppered throughout, an interesting angle for any pop music fans, and a nearly all female cast of characters with complex relationships.
Rating: 3 out of 5. Worth a watch, you may find yourself humming that song for days. Be careful. 😉
Violence level: There are depictions of suicide, someone being trampled to death, and a few other unsettling images. Otherwise, it’s relatively light on the violence.
Scariness level: While some of the scares are clearly derivative of stronger films, there are a few surprises. One of my favorite mirror gags happens in this one!
Bechdel test: Passes, by a wide margin. The girls almost never talk about men, other than to discuss the sponsor every so often. More often, they discuss music, their own careers, and the ghost that is following them.
Mako Mori test: Once again, quite a big pass!