FILM REVIEW

RATING
WHISPERING CORRIDORS (1998)

Director: Park Ki-hyung

Genre: Supernatural horror

Run time: 1h 47m

 

The film which launched modern K-Horror, the first instalment of this high school-based franchise is a creepy and atmospheric ghost story


Korean horror emerged in the 1960s but had almost completely disappeared by the late 1980s, before blasted out of the blocks again in the late 1990s to international acclaim.


The fuse lighter for this explosion in K-Horror content and popularity was this high school-based supernatural horror, which returned to the traditional Korean horror trope of the vengeful female ghost (yeogwi).


It also did what all great horror film do and provided lucid social commentary on a vital issue, in this case the pressures placed on school students in Korea by draconian teachers and lofty expectations.


In an all-female high school, the Jookran High School for Girls, a teacher nicknamed ‘Old Fox’ due to her callous nature is strangled with a noose by an unknown figure.


Her body is then discovered by three students, talented artist Lim Ji-oh, the timid Yoon Jae-yi and the unpopular Kim Jung-sook. 


It is a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire for the students though, as Mr. Oh, nicknamed ‘Mad Dog' for similar reasons to his predecessor, takes over the class and enacts his passion for corporal punishments.


What unfolds from here is a growing mystery around events at the school and the identity of the past, or perhaps current, student who is enacting revenge on the school for ills they suffered within its walls. 


Gloom and grief permeate every pore of this film’s fabric. It creates a restlessness through silence and the notion of constant threat lingering somewhere through those sprawling school corridors. 


It also manages a powerful indictment of South Korea’s school system. The teachers are cruel and judgemental, “is your father still drinking?”, “you smell of incense, no wonder with a shaman for a mother”.


However, the cruelty does not transition just between the teachers and students, as the fellow students turn on each other, spurred on by the competitive environment around them: “She’s possessed by a ghost, one with a low IQ”.


The film is certainly a marvel of producing something impactful from a restricted base. Whispering Corridors cost just US$600,000 to make and was completed with only 28 set-ups, making the final product an impressive feat.


The commercial success of it saw a fleet of sequels – Memento Mori (1999), Wishing Stairs (2003), Voice (2005), A Blood Pledge (2009) and Whispering Corridors: The Humming (2020) – turning a break-out film into a bonafide horror franchise of note across four separate decades. 


Compared to the rip and roar of later K-Horrors and Korean cinema in general after 2000, there is a stillness and listlessness to this film which can seem lethargic. 


Offsetting some of this restfulness is a superb jump-scare scene. Which we will not detail. Those are always better enjoyed first-hand. 


While there is more refinement and legitimate scares in the K-Horror films that followed Whispering Corridors, this is where it all started for the modern Korean horror and it deserves its dues for that. 

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