March 27, 2013

Memento Mori: Creepy Girls Rule the Schoolyard

Whatever the Korean equivalent of the sibilant "s" is, the characters in Memento Mori are lisping it repeatedly throughout the second fright flick of the Whispering Corridors series. This homoerotic creep-show is like a lesbian hall of mirrors. Watch as the central tragic romance between femme psycho diarist Hyo-shin (Park Yeh-jin) and cold-hearted jock Shi-eun (Lee Young-jin) is reflected in the obsessive eyes of Min-ah (Kim Gyu-ri), a fellow student who falls for Shi-eun then is possessed by the spirit of Hyo-shin. Try to ignore the Sapphic undercurrents in the friendship among Min-ah's sexually repressed gal pals. Pretend that the heterosexual fling between teacher Mr. Goh (Baek Jong-hak) and Hyo-shin is anything but perverted. Frankly, this movie is gay in the best way possible.

It's also stylishly executed. Spirit-world POVs show a world robbed of subtlety and detail; well-choreographed crowd scenes are shot from above a la Busby Berkley; even the artwork in the collage-filled diary — which Hyo-shin keeps and Min-ah devours — is lovely to look at. (The film snagged a cinematography award at Slamdance for a reason.)

Art house accomplishments aside, Memento Mori freaks because Kim Gyu-ri's such a fidgety, tormented, slack-jawed mess. You'll be torn between finding her acting horrendous and completely appropriate. How would you act if you'd found a magic journal with a secret transformation pill, an envelope of powdered poison, and a hidden mirror that led to your soul being snatched away by the memoirist. Of course, you'd be a total wreck. I suspect the movie's two writer-directors — Kim Tae-yong and Min Kyu-dong — were constantly giving their little leading lady conflicting instructions/feedback to keep her perpetually disoriented. Nicely done!

The other movies in the Whispering Corridor series are Blood Pledge, Voice, Wishing Stairs, and the titular film that gives the series its name.

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