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(Movie Review) Lacking thrills, fifth high school horror sequel disappoints, again

All Headlines 09:00 June 13, 2009

(ATTN: photos available)
By Shin Hae-in

SEOUL, June 13 (Yonhap) -- Once again, South Korea's "Horror School" (or "Memento Mori") series turns out to be a disappointment, especially for old-time fans who have remained loyal despite a trail of letdowns over the past decade.

"A Blood Pledge (Dongbanjasal)," the fifth and newest sequel to the high school horror series, is a film that appears clueless about what it wants to be. Neither scary nor moving, it falls flat in its attempt to be both horror and drama.

The release of "Blood…" marks a meaningful moment for the Korean horror, or K-horror, genre, which has gained popularity among movie buffs at home and abroad in recent years. With their bizarre and often sociocultural plot lines, K-horrors mirrored the success of their counterparts in Japan, and audiences have been eager for this year's releases to chill their summer.

"Whispering Corridors," the first of the "Horror School" series, was a shot in the arm to K-horrors in 1998. While the film did what it meant to do -- frighten the audiences with a ghastly series of murders at an all-girls Korean high school-- it also offered subtle criticism of the Korean educational system, an approach that was rare and fresh to local viewers at the time.

Following the movie's box office success, producer Cine 2000 began to create sequels featuring imperiled schoolgirls and malevolent spirits.

As the series wore on, it tipped more towards raising various educational issues, such as excessive competition, sexual ignorance, gender confusion and depression. But scaring viewers while delivering a social message is a difficult trick, one that these films failed to pull off.

"Blood…," appears to have made the same mistake.

Given the prevalence of suicide in South Korea in the recent years, centering the film on suicidal high school girls wasn't a bad idea. But the movie's message -- whatever it is supposed to be -- becomes confused and even laughable when mixed up with ghosts and excessive amounts of fake blood.

Set in an all-girls Catholic high school, the film features four friends who decide to commit group suicide one night. The plan seems to "go well" until the friends reach the rooftop holding hands. Then, one leaps, but the other three hold back. Ugly rumors begin to fly around school as the dead friend returns to haunt the three girls.

"Blood…" does make viewers hold their breath a few times, but it misses the target as a horror film. With issues of teenage pregnancy and domestic violence thrown in between the creepy scenes, the film lacks suspense, and ultimately, any satisfaction.

Despite the lackluster flair and weak storyline, the film should be given one credit; it has again managed to find several new faces with potential, holding up its reputation as a "starlet producer."

The past four "Horror School" movies introduced to the local film industry -- which has always seemed to suffer from a lack of skillfull actresses -- a number of bright new talents, including Song Ji-hyo of "Frozen Flower" and Kim Ok-vin, the heroine of Cannes-winning "Thirst."

Five little-known actresses in "Blood…" -- Chang Kyung-a, Son Eun-seo, Oh Yeon-seo, Song Min-jeong and Yu Shin-ae, who beat more than 5,500 competitors to land roles in the movie -- all show off good acting skills, promising a future spot in the domestic film industry.

The movie, a feature debut by Lee Jong-yong, will hit the local theaters on June 18.


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