It’s been a decade since the film WHISPERING CORRIDORS was released in Korea and several years, since the DVD release of that film and its two companion projects MOMENTO MORI and WISHING STAIRS made their debuts here in the U.S. Last year when Tartan Asia Extreme re-released the films in a GHOST SCHOOL TRILOGY box set, they neglected to mention that a fourth film in the series had been shot in 2005. That film, YEOGO GWAE-DAM 4: MOKSORI arrives on DVD Stateside from Genius Entertainment under the much more manageable title VOICE.
Like the other films in the “GHOST SCHOOL TRILOGY” VOICE only shares the most basic of plot descriptors—those being, the setting; an all-girls school, and the overall focus; a ghost story. How each film uses those broad brushstrokes to paint their celluloid picture is what makes them unique. This time however, the film seems to be combining major and minor plot points from the previous three incarnations to manufacture the latest supernatural horror story.
The basis of the story is one of friendship. Young-eon (Kim Ok-bin, ARANG) is your average high school girl with one amazing gift—her beautiful singing voice. Her best friend is Sun-min (Seo Ji-hyu). As the film opens, Young-eon is rehearsing late into the evening on campus. After Sun-min heads home for the night, Young-eon is killed by a vengeful spirit. The next morning Young-eon awakens—apparently alive—in the music room having seemingly spent the night at the school. But, once she ventures out into the bustling halls, she discovers the horrible truth about her fate. Desperate to communicate with anyone that she is still there, Young-eon discovers that Sun-min can still hear her. When Sun-min finally accepts that she’s not insane and that the voices in her head are real, the pair set out to unravel who killed Young-eon and why.
For a ghost story, and a horror film to boot, VOICE is essentially nothing more than a murder mystery, and one that has to be solved by the actual victim. The suspects are abundant, with suspicions falling on the music teacher (Kim Seo-hyeong, BLACK HOUSE) who lost her voice due to throat cancer, the new student who just returned from the nuthouse (Cha Ye-ryeon) or perhaps even a vengeful spirit of another promising teenage soprano who committed suicide in the schools elevator (Lim Hyeon-kyeong). The film successfully balances these questions dutifully doling out tidbits of information and misinformation through flashback sequences. The film also introduces a few interesting ideas about life after death—including that the spirits can visit their memories through a kind of temporal vortex and that the spirit is only held to this plane of existence as long as someone here remembers them. It’s this final caveat that makes the relationship between Young-eon and Sun-min so compelling and it’s also what sets the film apart in terms of tone—making it more of a drama than your standard Asian Horror film.
Unlike so many of it’s J and K-horror brethren, VOICE is also—for all it’s flashbacks—an incredibly linear film that isn’t the least bit difficult to follow…up to a point. It seems that Director Choe Ik-hwan decided at the last minute—where he’s going for the big resolve—to inundate the audience with far too many ideas about what transpired over the course of the film. It makes matters even more complex in that the exposition occurs between mirror images of the Young-eon characters. So, essentially she’s telling herself what happened but from the point of view of a different character. To say this dénouement requires that you put down your popcorn and pick up your brain power would be an understatement. Also, at 104-minutes VOICE is the longest film in the series other than the original and it sometimes feels every minute of it. Still, these flaws don’t distract too badly (assuming you “get” the conclusion) from the overall production making it one of the strongest entries of the set.
Finally, the film wraps up with the most melancholy closing credit sequences I’ve ever seen in an Asian Horror film and perhaps in a Western one too—really driving home the isolationism of the lost spirits in the story. In fact, for lack of a better term one could say it’s haunting. It’s also a fitting and classy closing to a production that rises above the clichés that generally riddle the Asian market—a truly interesting project that is totally worth checking out even if you’ve never seen any of the other GHOST SCHOOL films.