Whispering Corridors Review

Seven years after its completion, Whispering Corridors finally gains its UK release. This lengthy waiting period is actually something of a surprise given that the film proved to be Korea’s biggest box-office success that year and kickstarted a whole series of high school horror movies. Indeed, save for the language barrier, this is hardly an acquired taste; its combination of vengeful ghosts, girls’ school setting and youthful cast will no doubt lead to a Hollywood remake at some point down the line.

Before that happens, however, it’s worth considering why Whispering Corridors proved the success it did back in 1998. Other Korean homeland hits – such as Joint Security Area - have tended to attain their box-office prominence not so much through the storylines themselves, but rather their significance. JSA, for example, concerned itself with the country’s reunification and as such it’s tempting to view Whispering Corridors along similar lines. Certainly, there’s no political dimension here, but it does offer a less than rosy view of Korea’s educational system. Teachers are portrayed as bullies, the pupils as harangued innocents and, of course, something’s got to give.

In this case that means staff are getting bumped off one-by-one and the possibility that their deaths are the work of either a ghost or a possessed pupil. We learn of a bullied schoolgirl, Jin-ju, who killed herself five years ago, and discover that the new teacher was an old classmate of hers. She then fronts a covert investigation of sorts into events whilst the film also focuses on a trio of girls who will similarly lead us on the road to an explanation.

Yet although Whispering Corridors doesn’t quite descent into a hackneyed “youths vs. adults” setup along the lines of the frankly embarrassing Battle Royale II, it can be simplistic in its approach. The characters are easily compartmentalised (especially the adult players who more often than not come across as nothing more than two-dimensional thugs) and the film as a whole lacks the astute observation to be found in other high school genre pieces such as Brian DePalma’s Carrie or the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series. The social commentary which you’d expect to appear and therefore explain its success never really materialises – or at least not beyond this rather basic level.

But then director Park Ki-Hyung, making his feature debut, is seemingly concerned by other things. His is a film guided by visuals and heavy sound design more than anything else. Every edit point is matched by a sound effect, freeze frames and other overt instances of stylisation abound, and the Gregorian chants are clearly on overtime. Had Whispering Corridors been your usual brash horror film then perhaps we would quickly tire of all this. Yet it’s far too slow-burning to be dismissed as such. Rather Park takes things easy in order for us to soak up every last ounce of atmosphere – and therefore every audio-visual trick. Indeed, it’s hard not to see this film as a simple calling card for Park rather than an instance of storytelling. But then such an approach still allows Whispering Corridors to be more interesting than your average horror and as such it has enough to warrant a viewing. Beyond that, however, it’s slim pickings.

The Disc

We may have had to wait seven years to get Whispering Corridors, but judging by Tartan’s efforts we’ll have to wait even longer for it to get a decent UK DVD. Though transferred anamorphically (at a ratio of 1.78:1), the print used in extremely poor condition. Pock-marked with instances of damage, it also suffers from edge enhancement difficulties and has the contrast all wrong. Indeed, the effect is to make the film look as though it was taken from a videotape recording, hardly the appearance you’d expect from a DVD.

In contrast, its soundtrack is actually quite pleasing. As is the Tartan norm we get a choice of DD2.0, DD5.1 and DTS options. The DD5.1 mix is set at default and this is the one to go for. There’s scant difference – if any – between this offering and the DTS plus both sound especially fine. Given the overt sound design, the mix makes fine use of the surround channels creating an effective experience. Of course, the DD2.0 offering loses out on this, though it’s technically sound nonetheless.

Extras, perhaps inevitably, extend solely to the original theatrical trailer and the standard trailer reel for other Tartan Asia Extreme releases.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 07:08:18

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