Wishing Stairs

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Honestly, ya gotta admit, it's rare to find a horror movie directed by a woman (the genre doesn't really seem to attract the gender as much as it should) but it's even harder still to find an ASIAN horror movie directed by a woman. Yet newcomer director YUN JAE-YEON takes her first time celluloid scares very seriously and shows alot of promise with WISHING STAIRS (aka WHISPERING CORRIDOR 3), the third installment of the uber-popular Korean SCARY TALES IN A GIRL'S HIGHSCHOOL series which is comprised of WHISPERING CORRIDORS from 1997 and MEMENTO MORI (alias WHISPERING CORRIDORS 2) from 1999. With only one previous horror related effort completed, she got her notice after making a short film called PSYCHO DRAMA and now with the success of WISHING STAIRS (it reportedly pulled in nearly two million viewers across worldwide theatres in 2003) under her belt, the sky's the limit for her career.

Not so much of a straight forward horror movie, WISHING STAIRS is better described as a horror drama with supernatural overtones, something the current Asian cinema is excellent at delivering to audiences these days. It stars actress SONG JI-HYO as "Jinny" Jin-Sung, the "close" friend of school mate, Kim So-Hee (played by actress PARK HAN-BYEOL). What I mean by "close" is that the two highschool girls have a rather deep loving relationship that teeters on the brink of sheer lesbianism which is a common story element in the other films of this series. The other main character is the much maligned overweight Hye-Ju (actress JO AN) who, as we see early on, climbs the steps of the staircase leading up to the school dorm. The old legend says that a staircase containing 28 steps will mysteriously conjure a final 29th step for those in dire need of help. And once you reach the top, all you have to do is simply ask the fabled Fox Spirit (the Fox With Nine Tails, maybe?) for a wish and it shall be granted. However, there's always a catch to the wish and in the end, nothing ever works out the way it should. Not a big surprise, huh? It just wouldn't be a horror movie if everything went fine, ya know. So, as you can probably already guess, chubby Hye-Ju, once receiving the magical last step, asks the spirit to loose weight. This comes true and she starts to drop the pounds but only in the form of her purging everything she eats. Not quite what she had in mind, I bet.

Anyway, back to Jinny and Ho-See. As I said, their relationship may border on alittle too friendly but there's gonna be trouble in paradise when an opening in their ballet class offers a chance for one lucky gal to take part in a big performance and win a scholarship to a major Russian dance school. As it turns out, So-Hee doesn't like ballet but she keeps at it because her mother always wanted to be a dancer but couldn't. Yet even though she has no interest in ballet, So-Hee's extremely good at it, more so than her best buddy, Jinny. And after a brief preliminary competition, it looks like she's gonna take the honors. So Jinny does the only thing she can, she climbs the Wishing Stairs in hopes that the elusive 29th step will appear to grant her a wish. It does and she wishes to win the competition. But keep in mind what I mentioned earlier, the wish doesn't come without some sort of pricetag attached to it. And unbeknownst to Jinny, that price will be the death of her friend, So-Hee.

But that's not all, remember Hye-Ju? Well, So-Hee had always been nice to her even when she didn't have to be, so Hye-Ju naturally developed an unhealthy crush on her (more lesbo schenanigans, perhaps?) and when she finds out that her precious is now dead, she instinctively climbs the stairs and asks the Fox Spirit to return So-Hee to her. And reminiscent of something you might see in STEPHEN KING's PET SEMATARY, So-Hee comes back from the beyond but certainly NOT the way Hye-Ju may have hoped for. Because what would an angry spirit of someone who was wrongly murdered want? Revenge, of course. So in order to keep the remaining half of the movie a secret, I'll wrap this review up for now. Yet, it goes without saying, you can pretty much imagine what the rest of the flick will be about, can't ya?

Okay, hold it right there. I know what you're thinking. Why would you want to watch a movie about ballet dancers? Or a movie about fat chicks who wanna look like skinny runway models? Or a movie about mushy girl-love? Now granted, those things are in there but that shouldn't put you off as a male viewer. Why? First of all, most of the girls in the movie look finger licking good in their school uniforms (of the teen jailbait persuasion, that is). Secondly, even though there's all that drippy chick flick foolishness in the film, it's all pretty much designed to set up the characters. But when the murders, blood splatterings, and supernatural hocus pocus begin, you'll quickly settle in for the horror show that's to come. And lastly, the actresses (who, for most, get their film debut here) give exceptional performances that come from a well written script and good direction, care of YUN JAE-YEON. All in all, WISHING STAIRS is an excellent little addition to the genre and it shows us that women can indeed make good horror movies. And not to mention, you'll surely remember the little ballerina tune long after the movie has ended and you may even find yourself humming along with it at some point.

As for the DVD, there's quite a few single disc "movie only" bootlegs out there but I'd recommend tracking down the legitimate 2-disc Korean R3 release by BITWIN and CINEMA SERVICE. The packaging is really cool and creepy, designed to look like Hye-Ju's diary. It's slipcase is covered in abstract paintings and bizarre stick figure people just as you'll see in the film itself. The animated menus are also decorated as such but they're a tad confusing to navigate at first. What about the movie's quality? Well, it's presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen with a nice looking transfer. Nothing to jump up and down about, but it's as good as anything else you could pick up from BITWIN or CINEMA SERVICE. It luckily sports a Korean language DTS soundtrack and the English subtitles are surprisingly easy to read and seem to flow correctly from a faithful translation. And coming from an import, that's something worthy of praise right there. The special features are heaping plentiful but they're not subtitled unfortunately. There's thirty minutes of deleted scenes ( ! ), audio commentary (as if we could even follow along anyway), four "Making Of" featurettes (set designs, CGI special effects, ballet bullshit, etc), some interviews, two art galleries, various tv spots and trailers, the director's short film PYSCHO DRAMA, and some other odds and ends which I haven't gotten around to watch yet. So, to sum it all up, a VERY decent purchase for about $25 and well worth the watch too.

Reviewed by DevilMan