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Ko - production in Busan
  • Memento Mori
  • by Pierce Conran /  Mar 07, 2016
    199997 MIN | Horror
    DIRECTOR KIM Tae-yong, MIN Kyu-dong
    CAST RIE Young-zin, PARK Ye-jin, KIM Gyu-ri, KONG Hyo-jin
    RELEASE DATE Dec 24, 1999
    CONTACT Mirovision Inc.
    Tel : +82 2 3443 2568
    Fax : +82 2 3443 4842
    Email :
    The modern Korean horror explosion may have kicked off in 1998 with Whispering Corridors, but it’s that film’s successor Memento Mori, which came a year later, that has endured as one of the few classics of the genre. There would ultimately be five Whispering Corridors films, all of which come from first-time filmmakers and focus on high school girls and haunting stories, and none of which are related narratively.
    Though all five have their merits, Memento Mori stands out for providing the industry with two talents that are now seen as some of Korean cinema’s most important filmmakers: KIM Tae-yong and MIN Kyu-dong. The pair previously made short films together and after Memento Mori went on to make other landmark Korean films. KIM has stayed away from outright commercial fare, directing indie gems such as Family Ties (2006) and Late Autumn (2011), while MIN is a go-to name for both romantic comedies (All For Love, 2005; All About My Wife, 2012) and erotic fare such as last year’s The Treacherous. MIN has also remained in the horror realm, directing portions of all three Horror Stories omnibuses.
    What also marks the film is that it is a very early Korean work to delve into lesbian themes. Admittedly, the original script is said to have gone further in this respect and some scenes were cut before a release was granted, but Memento Mori remains a sensitive exploration of a taboo theme that uses its high school microcosmos as a metaphorical battleground for the lack of acceptance of homosexuality in Korean society, something that hasn’t changed a great deal even today, 17 years later.
    PARK Ye-jin and RIE Young-zin, in their film debuts, feature as the young girls who cautiously embark in a relationship, only for one to break off contact when she gets cold feet, fearing how they would be perceived, and the other to commit suicide and return as a supernatural force haunting the school. Among the other young stars also making their film debuts are KONG Hyo-jin and KIM Gyu-ri (at the time credited as KIM Min-sun).
    With an energetic and elegant mise-en-scene that reflects the uncertainty and desires of youth, Memento Mori, with its fractured narrative, spends the first half of its running time as a high school drama before gently introducing its supernatural elements and eventually builds to a crescendo when all the girls are trapped in the school and crisscross the halls in a panic. In this chaotic finale, the tension mounts through an ominous soundtrack and a dizzying tear through a multitude of locations in the school.
    Even more so than its antecedent, Memento Mori foreshadowed the style that would become the norm for classroom scenes in Korean films in the modern era, and also demonstrated the possibilities of horror as genre and social commentary, though few examples have rivalled its effectiveness in subsequent years.
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