"It doesn't take long to realize that "Memento Mori" is a beautiful film."
- Mighty Peking Man
Memento Mori (1999)
AKA: Whispering Corridors 2, Yeogo Goedam 2; The Ghost Story Of Girls' High
Director: Kim Tae-Yong, Min Kyu-Dong
Producer: Lee Chun-Yeon
Cast: Lee Young-Jin, Park Yeh-Jin, Kim Min-Sun
Running Time: 97 min.
Plot: A teenage girl finds the diary of schoolmates, leading to the uncovering of a secret relationship and supernatural repercussions. A teenage girl finds the diary of schoolmates, leading to the uncovering of a secret relationship and supernatural repercussions.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
NUMSKULL'S REVIEW: I watched this noted Korean film for free (thanks, Netflix!) in glorious pan & scan (NO thanks, Mei Ah!) based largely upon Mighty Peking Man's glowing review. And I don't regret it. Watched it twice, I did. Damn good movie. But..."masterpiece"? I dunno about that.
The setting is an all-girls high school jam-packed with snotty and contemptible bitches. Among the few who does not desperately require forty lashes to correct her behavior is the quiet So Min-ah, who starts to drift apart from her friends upon becoming mesmerized by a mysterious diary she picks up one fine day. It belongs to Min Hyo-shin and Yoo Shi-eun, two other students who are treated as outcasts (big loss) ostensibly because they're lesbians but truthfully because the other girls have simply decided to dislike them.
The film (or at least the subtitles) translates the Latin expression "Memento Mori" as "Remember the dead." But, according to my copy of "Medieval Folklore: A Guide to Myths, Legends, Tales, Beliefs, and Customs" (written and copyrighted by Carl Lindahl, John McNamara and John Lindow from Oxford University Press and yes, I did just say "my copy"; shut up), it means "Remember you must die", and is described as "[A] generic term used to describe objects or writings serving as reminders of human mortality, especially popular in northern Europe from the late thirteenth century."
"Writings serving as reminders of human mortality" certainly brings the diary to mind, and although its contents are affectionate rather than morbid, it becomes an intriguing peephole into the past for Min-ah when Hyo-shin (the more erratic and needy of the co-authors) plummets from the roof of the school to a bloody death on the concrete and stone cold Shi-eun doesn't seem to care. Nevertheless, the film is better served by the translation it provides, "Remember the dead", since Hyo-shin isn't about to let everyone forget about her, despite the obstacle of not being alive anymore.
And so the supernatural element kicks in. Memento Mori expertly keeps the viewer hooked, cruising with comfort and confidence between solemn but bearable art house material and Lesbian Schoolgirl Vengeance From Beyond The Grave. The mood-setting camera work and musical score are there to enhance the story rather than compensate for its shortcomings, and sympathizing with the right characters poses no problem at all. Mr. Goh, a depressed young teacher for whom many of the girls have the female equivalent of a hard-on, is an interesting supporting character, and everyone is injected with plenty of personality. (Note that I did not say this makes them likable.)
The conclusion of the film feels somewhat uncertain and perhaps even a little incomplete, but I don't think of it as a really bad ending; it's just where the movie decides to stop. It is satisfactory, if not wonderfully fulfilling. Other than that, Memento Mori is very much a thumbs up affair.
NUMSKULL'S REVIEW: 8/10
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S REVIEW: It doesn't take long to realize that "Memento Mori" is a beautiful film. Beautiful in every aspect: its brilliant cinematography (Winner, Best Cinematography, Slamdance Film Festival), distinguished direction, and above all, the wholesomeness of the film's three leading ladies: Lee Young-Jin, Park Yeh-Jin and Kim Min-Sun. It's hard to believe that most of the people responsible for bringing this film to life are all first-timers (directors Kim Tae-Yong & Min Kyu-Dong and the film's leading trio), because what they have created in "Memento Mori" is very close to a masterpiece.
As the film's credits roll, we are hinted that something fatal will happen somewhere, sometime during the film's 99 minute duration. How can we ignore the words that are heard over the credits:
"Memento Mori" (which means "remember the dead" in Latin) mostly takes place in an all-female campus, which appears to be a private High School (no grades or info is suggested in the movie, but the students appear to be 17-18 years of age).
At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Min-Ah, a curious student played remarkably by Kim Min-Sun. She comes across an abandoned book while taking a routine trip to the school's drinking fountain. Without hesitation, she picks up the nicely crafted book, flips through the pages and comes across a few words: "The first kiss, like the smell of apples...". Convinced that this book is more than just a "book", she keeps it and heads for class.
She immediately discovers that this book is actually a diary. A diary by not one, but two students named Hyo-Shin and Shi-Eun (played by Lee Young-Jin and Park Yeh-Jin). What makes the diary interesting are its intense words of obsession, poetry, love and handcrafted art pieces. From this point on, Min-Ah can't put the book down. She keeps the diary a secret from everyone including its rightful owners. She now looks at Hyo-Shin and Shi-Eun from a different angle, discovering more and more about them as she reads their diary.
It is revealed early on in the film that Hyo-Shin and Shi-Eun are two students who are labeled as "outcasts" or "weirdos" to the rest of the school. They are often mocked and picked on due to their "in their own world" presence and slight hints that they are indeed more than friends -- but lovers. At one point, a few students throw empty milk cartons at Hyo-Shin's face for no reason at all. Both girls also get wicked stairs as they make their appearance through classrooms and hallways.
As time goes on, Min-Ah becomes more and more immersed in the diary and its authors. She begins to sneak on Hyo-Shin and Shi-Eun during their private meetings on the school rooftops hoping to get a better idea about them. For a short time, they become satisfying entertainment to her.
When tragedy strikes, things start to get even more interesting. From this point the viewer's minds will boggle. There will be endless "that's what happened... No, this is what happened..." statements being whipped around in our minds. As it flows, we can only hope that in the next minute we will figure out why certain events have happened. We also begin to realize that the movie may require 2nd or 3rd viewings to catch links in some of the short flashbacks at the beginning of the film.
I've seen "Memento Mori" three times now. To be perfectly honest, I still don't know what to make of it in terms of "point" and "reason". The few things that do come to mind are: supernatural, possession and the anxiety of love. Whatever it may be, this film will leave you thinking in a satisfied, disclosed kind of way.
There has been much controversy over the film's lesbian content. Much of the film has been toned down and cut, leaving only traces of sexual contact between Hyo-Shin and Shi-Eun. However, this film is way too interesting and beautiful to even notice that any point of lesbianism is present.
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S RATING: 9/10