Sunday, November 21, 2010

Shifting Modes of Representation in Whispering Corridors - Part I

High school girls are punished in class
Whispering Corridors (Yeogo geodam, 1998) was released during a key time in the modernization of Korean cinema. It came one year after the breakout homegrown melodramas, The Contact (Cheob-sok, 1997) and The Letter (Pyeon ji, 1997) and a year before the first true Korean blockbuster, Shiri (Swiri, 1999). It was one of the early films in the new, prosperous era in Korean cinema, it was also the first horror film to leave a significant mark on the box office. While at this time horror films were similarly gaining traction in Japan, such as the Ringu (The Ring) and Ju-On (The Grudge) series, their Korean counterparts were very specific in their focus, which tended to revolve around teenage girls. Surprisingly, instead of being objects that were overtly sexualized and designed to incite lust, these characters highlighted the sensibility of sonyeo (girls). Choi argues that ‘sensibility’ “provides a conceptual alternative to ‘sexuality’”. Beneath this sensibility evident in Korean horror cinema, she believes that “one must uncover a collective fantasy: a form of female bonding and sexual performance that may or may not be socially sanctioned”. Audiences are given the opportunity to share a similar sensibility beyond their typical demographic. Instead of being drawn in by exploitation and sexual fetishization, they are led to empathize with the protagonists.

Whispering Corridors… …indicts Korea’s oppressive educational system, and this South Korean modes of capitalistic socialization.”

Sonyeo working to get into college
The film is clearly a critique of the harsh Korean educational system but I think that the same things that point to this also act as metaphors for the larger issue of the whole peninsula’s shared historical trauma. The film is inherently violent, just like Korea’s bloody history, and yet most of the protagonists spend their time on screen internalizing their emotions and avoiding conflict. This contrasts strongly with male-oriented Korean high school films such as Friend (Chingoo, 2001) and Once Upon a Time in High School (Maljukgeori janhoksa, 2004), in which the protagonists constantly react physically and often incite violence. As mentioned above, the Whispering Corridors series as well as Kim Ji-woon’s A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Hongryeon, 2003) are examples of sonyeo sensibility, where the focus is on “emotional predilections and psychological behavioral dispositions and tendencies”, thus characters do not lash out physically. This style of cinema is well positioned to deal with Korea’s historical trauma. Since the nation’s grief is something that has never fully been resolved and had throughout the 1990s democratization and globalization of Korea been largely swept under the rug, it was a logical move to incorporate these buried anxieties and identity issues in characters that are typically dealing with their own grief which is quietly seething under the surface. Since the 1980s and still to this day, this position has been largely occupied by the post-traumatic males embodied by Park Joong-hun, Sol Kyung-gu and Song Kang-ho in films ranging from Chilsu and Mansu (Chilsu wa Mansu, 1988) to Peppermint Candy (Bakha Satang, 1998) to The Host (Gwoemul, 2006). When Korean cinema branched out to younger audiences in the late 1990s, this was a new way to deal with the nation’s history while also becoming more contemporary and drawing in younger (as well as foreign) audiences.

A young girl look up towards a school on  a dark night
The film starts by very clearly setting out its intent, with a young girl (only visible from behind and below the knees) looking up towards a school on a dark night. This menacing shot indicates someone returning to the scene of a previous trauma. The young girl's trauma is particularly important because of her age, she died young and was thus never allowed to grow old. Her trauma, that turns out to be her suicide, is all that remains of her. Her suicide was brought about by her treatment by the school’s teachers. The first victim is this narrative is an old teacher who feels that the past is about to catch up with her. She is also unable to forget the past and knows that it has come back to haunt her. The young girl embodies Korea and its battered past, or perhaps she could also represent a young victim such as a girl slaughtered during the Gwangju Massacre. Mrs. Park is the older generation which has also been scarred by the past and cannot move forward with these memories permanently etched into their psyches.

The title Whispering Corridors refers to the gossiping girls who roam the schools halls. Perhaps it implies the growing awareness within the minjung (the masses), as they discuss current events and social injustice to the dismay of the authority that tries to eradicate any dissention by scolding the girls for chattering in class.

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. The look of the murky and desolate school corridors where sunlight cannot reach during the afternoon lessons had always given me the creeps. This movie was on the silver-screen while I was in Grade-10, in Turkey. My friends have gone to see it, yet they were so indisposed afterwards. However couple weeks before its screening, we've seen a Jennifer-Love Hewitt flick "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" that was when we had finished that horror movie with belly laughs and roll in the aisles. I was curious to see and to know what was not to laugh of somebody's frightening of ghosts. Somehow, even though my friends were irritated of it, Whispering Corridors made a good box-office hit in Turkey. It must have inspired some serious masses, that in the first decade of 2000s' Turkish Horror-Suspense Fiction have used remarkable pieces from Whispering Corridors whether directly or indirectly. Then Taylan Brothers adapted a low-quality copycat from this already adapted adaptation. Making double adaptation for a piece of art didn't make sense on the payoff and the viewer felt it thoroughly. No one ever liked this adaptation; and it remained as a pathetic Turkish version: Okul(2004). That failure of Turkish cinema made me search for its origin. Yet till yesterday I hadn't have a chance to see this psycho-horror. Now watching it for the first time after 10 years of its release, it's clear to realize that Horror is no Horror if there is no Psycho in it. Whispering Corridors is para-psychologically successful and realistic. People know in secret that these types of extra-ordinary and super-natural happenings do really occur in real life. medico por internet doctor por internet psicólogo por internet veterinario por internet abogado abogado España por internet abogado chile por internet abogado costa rica por internet psiquiatra por internet mecanico por internetThe story takes place on a country-side all-girl private school in South Korea, the year 1998. Presumably on a Sunday, the day before the new semester starts, the president of the teachers' committee of the school(Mrs.Parks) is getting killed right after the killer stole the 1993 and 1996 student yearbooks.