Posted by Holly
I’ve written about the Whispering Corridors series on here before, and commended it for bringing an interesting series of films grounded in a female-centric setting, and that explore complex female relationships, to the table. Each film varies in its quality, and the way in which it approaches the idea of ghosts in the all girls schools it depicts – some are, of course, more successful than others. So where does the original film sit in relation to the other films it has inspired since?
The original Whispering Corridors is, as a whole, probably the strongest of all the films, and absolutely a worthwhile ghost story to check out.
Whispering Corridors takes place in Jookran High School, an all girls school with a few particularly cruel teachers. When Mrs. Park – nicknamed Old Fox for her cruel ways – is found dead by a few students one morning, things get thrown into even further disarray. Mrs. Park is replaced by a new teacher, nicknamed Mad Dog, for his excessive use of corporal punishments and sexual harassment of his favorite students. One student, Ji-Oh, is so deeply troubled by finding Mrs. Park’s body that she begins to express her feelings through painting, much to her new teacher’s dismay. Along with this, Eun-young, a former student at the school, is beginning to teach there, and has a strong connection to the strange events happening.
This Whispering Corridors film probably has the most intricately plotted story out of all the films in the series, and so it takes some serious paying attention to follow along with what’s going on. Part of this has to do with the fact that two stories are technically being told here – one in the past and one in the present – and the stories overlap and feed into each other in complex ways. This can result in a messy feeling story, but in this case works to its benefit; as the pieces begin to come together, you begin to see how each of the individual characters ultimately plays their part in moving the story to its chilling conclusion.
This film has an all but exclusively female cast, with the notable exception of Mad Dog, and it really embraces taking a close look at the relationships forged between these girls. The story of Eun-young and Jin-ju, childhood friends who had external factors drive them apart, demonstrates how competition, jealousy, and social pressures can break apart even the most loving of friendships. It paints that picture with sympathy, as well as a deep undercurrent of sadness and regret. It also seems to suggest with So-young and Jung-sook’s story that these kinds of relationships are cyclical, so even when we see the characters learning from what they experienced, they must watch it happen to others.
The ghost herself is quite an interesting character, with complex motivations of her own. She does not want to hurt others, her haunting isn’t particularly vengeant. Her real motivation is to find a human connection in death that she was denied in life – a true friend who will never abandon her. It is only when she finds that friend that her haunting becomes more violent, in the hopes of protecting this person that has become to precious to her. Beyond this, she enacts something of another fear that many people have deep down: blending seamessly into her surroundings. Despite having come back to school for years after her death, interacting with many of the same teachers year after year, she is never quite recognized or noticed as anything other than another body to fill the seat in the classroom. That emphasis on how unimportant an individual is to the overall system is quite a sad message, and underlines the point of how much she needed to find one person to be special for her.
There is a slowly moving eeriness to this film, though it doesn’t quite go for the all-out scares. It instead opts to create strong, chilling images that linger in the mind of a viewer; the view of Mrs. Park’s body hanging near the school is one that’s hard to forget. The same can be said for the quietly moody atmosphere of the school itself, the art room. This is the kind of movie in which it’s difficult to pinpoint a moment where you felt terrified, but rather can recall a series of emotional impressions it made on you, some of which are deeply uncomfortable.
An interesting tidbit I learned about this film is that it came on the tails of a liberalization of censorship in South Korea, and was subsequently controversial for its depiction of cruel and abusive school practices. This film, even with just this, stands to be an interesting piece of South Korean culture at that point in time, with some of the darker aspects of its educational system presented as is, with a ghost story weaved throughout.
The Whispering Corridors film series is a fantastic addition to the South Korean horror cinema world, and this film really stands out as demonstrating all of the good things this series can accomplish. It’s hard for me to compare this film to the others in the series, especially the follow up, Memento Mori, which is a personal favorite of mine. And while Memento Mori might be my personal favorite within the series, I believe the first entry is undoubtedly the strongest.
Rating: 4 out of 5. Highly recommended!
Violence level: Several suicides are depicted, and a couple of relatively bloodless murders. So it’s on the low end, but has some triggers.
Scariness level: If ghostly schoolgirls are your thing, definitely. There are relatively few jumps, just some good old fashioned angry ghosts. However, this definitely aims more for atmosphere than scares, and it is very effective there.
Bechdel test: Yes! Lots of women in this film, discussing a variety of things with each other, and demonstrating complex relationships.
Mako Mori test: Once again, this whole film hinges on the wants and needs of a handful of female characters, none of which involve men too highly.