Memento Mori (1999)

JUNE 3, 2011


While I usually try to watch franchises in order even if I know there’s no narrative damage to be done by doing so, I’m skipping around on the Whispering Corridors “series”, as Memento Mori is the 2nd, and the last (only other) one I watched was the 4th one in the quintology. I opted for this one because a few twitter followers told me it was the best (plus it was shorter than the original), but honestly, I think they are about the same.

And it’s not just in quality, I mean it’s LITERALLY the same in many respects. Both films are more or less coherent to start, but go bonkers in the final 20 minutes or so, leaving me wondering if I had missed an entire reel or something (which is actually the case here; more on that in a bit). Both involve an all girls school, which I knew about (it’s the only thing tying the films together, from what I understand), but it’s also once again about a dead girl’s spirit haunting the place more or less in the background as the film concerns the fractured relationship between two of the characters, and once again a secret lesbian relationship is part of the problem, as is a dalliance with a teacher (though in Voice, the lesbian lover and the teacher were the same character – but I can’t quite recall, did the teacher actually return the feelings in Voice?). Music is involved as well. I mean, if they apparently weren’t bound to have any returning characters, why the hell did they have to stick so closely to the plot of the other films? This is a criticism of (the later) Voice, I should stress; I guess I should have watched them in order after all.

But also like that film, the characters are more developed than usual for Asian horror fare, allowing the dramatic/tragic elements of the story to be far more successful than such concepts would be in say, a Ju-On entry. If someone in one of those movies got their heart broken, I’d probably shrug and wonder when they were going to get cackled at by one of the ghosts, but here I actually felt bad for the girl when her would-be lover rejected her, as well as when her classmates tormented her.

And this is where the culture divide causes an issue. Apparently, the idea of a lesbian relationship in high school is quite scandalous in Korea, whereas here no one would give a shit (at least in my high school). Also, not only did this element of the story not really translate to me, as I just figured it was lazy screenwriting, but it caused censorship problems with the film as well. On a Korean release of the film, there is a whopping 186 minute cut of the film (this version runs only 98 minutes), and from what little I have been able to learn about it via blog posts and IMDb message board, the directors were forced to cut a lot of this stuff out because it was unacceptable over there (I assume hints that the girl was also carrying a teacher’s child were once more clear as well). It’s actually a testament to the actors/writing that the movie is even remotely coherent, as it was literally cut in half. Sadly, it’s not worth seeking out, as it doesn’t have English subtitles and thus I’d have to rely on body language to know what was going on, which... well, I’m not going to do.

Especially in a talky movie like this. The ghost elements are rather minimal, and largely confined to the third act, so most of the first hour is just a lot of chit-chat, which means staring at the bottom third of the screen. Now, I am not being racist or stereotypical here, but at first I had trouble telling some of the girls apart because I was so rarely getting the chance to really put a face to a voice. I actually wrote the main characters’ names down (there are five of them) with a little description to help me keep track, because they were also fond of talking about the ones who were absent, and rarely addressing someone by name to their face. Actually there’s one girl whose name I still didn’t catch (they didn’t talk about her when she wasn’t around), but via process of elimination and gradual familiarity, I was able to single her out and keep track. But I really wish I could have just had a dubbed track, which would probably not only help me follow along in those early scenes, but would probably be a better translation to boot, since subbed tracks are often dumbed down.

Luckily they didn’t dumb down the swears. The profane jerk in me was delighted at what potty mouths the girls had, dropping F-bombs and calling each other bitch and what not. But it wasn’t in an unpleasant way, it was sort of endearing, mostly used in an affectionate tone of voice. You know, like normal people. Less charming was the similar language used by their teachers, who’d mock their height/weight (all of the girls, even the ones who otherwise seemed normal, freaked out over getting their height checked, and another cheated on her hearing exam – are Koreans that strict that they’d consider bad hearing to be some sort of shameful trait?), swear at them, and even smack them around at the drop of a hat. At one point the two girls are kissing in class, and he runs over and pushes them both to the ground. I can tell you this much; if a thirty-ish male teacher saw two girls making out in class where I come from, he sure as hell wouldn’t be angry.

As for the actual horror elements, they’re OK. Some standard jump scare stuff (doors slamming shut, obscured figures running past the camera and startling a girl in the mid/background, etc makes up most of it; nothing you haven’t seen before. The finale features some ridiculous rear projection “giant face” stuff that wouldn’t seem out of place in Hausu, and I was unable to tell if what we were seeing was really happening or just someone’s dream (the movie’s chronology is nigh on impenetrable at times, especially when they don’t change the color timing or “announce” the shift to flashback in any noticeable way), but either way it was a bit of an ill-fitting surprise, considering how subtle the rest of the movie was.

In short, there are better options for this sort of thing. Maybe the three hour cut is better, and I have to remember that Voice came later, but I think both of them pale compared to the underrated The Eclipse, starring CiarĂ¡n Hinds. It’s also a tragic romantic drama with minor ghost movie elements, but the difference is the scares are extremely solid (I jumped like a wee girl TWICE). Plus, the story is far more coherent, and it’s in English, which for everyone but Korean speaking folks, means you get to watch the actual movie and appreciate the visuals.

What say you?


  1. I have four of these movies in a box set and all with English subs. I'm currently selling it on Amazon UK Marketplace because it seems to be worth noticeably more than I originally paid for it.

    I agree, you aren't being racist in finding it difficult to tell the difference between the girls. I had the same problem. It's because we aren't attuned to seeing the subtle differences in Asian features. Asians have the same problem with us. This also applies to and between other races as well.

    The movies themselves, however, do repay the effort.

  2. I'm glad you brought up The Eclipse again as it was one of my favorite films of the last few years (and I watch almost as many horror movies as you do). I'm pretty sure I have never been more terrified than I was when watching that film.


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