It has been a while since I saw a really good new horror film from Korea, and I had read good things about this one. Sadly, it did not live up to expectations, but it is interesting nonetheless.
In “White: The Melody of the Curse” we follow failing K-Pop girl band “Pink Dolls”. They are losing ground to their rivals, and people don’t even download their videos from their website any more. And it isn’t surprising really. Eun-joo (Ham Eun-jeong) is a former backing singer, who whilst the leader of the band is wracked with self doubt. Je-ni (Jin Se-yeon) is the main singer, but actually can’t sing. Ah-Rang (Choi Ah-ra) is addicted to plastic surgery. Sin-Ji (Maydoni) is so bad at singing she is reduced to rapping. Oh and they hate each other. However, one day Eun-joo uncovers and old video of a lost song by some similar band. The girls record it, and it becomes a huge success – but as each girl in turn is forced to lead the band they not only become prey to petty jealousies, but horrible accidents (related to their flaws) happen to them. The band reduce in number until only Eun-joo is left – but as her solo success increases, can she beat the curse of the original singer?
You have seen a lot of this before. Korean girls being petty and spiteful to each other. A cursed videotape. A long haired female ghost (although this one does have White hair, which is always a good visual on an Asian woman). In fact, as a horror movie it fails terribly, as it breaks the cardinal rule – it just is not scary. There are one or two jump out of your seat moments, but to be honest, it never really produces a compelling atmosphere. One scene where one of the girls is injured by an out of control camera crane actually raises more laughs than scares. It does not help that all our main characters are unlikeable at best, and utterly one-dimensional. Even the nominal lead, Eun-joo fails to elicit an awful lot of sympathy. The only character we really can empathise with is Eun-joo’s friend Soon-ye (Hwang Woo-seul-hye).
The film also seems a lot less well produced than Korean cinema has been of late. It looks a little rough around the edges, and struggles to really carry off the effects it wishes to show. Ironically, this actually does work in its favour in the final death scene, which although inspired by another film, it actually works rather well.
And yet, it actually is not without merit. The social commentary side of things is very well done. The damning indictment of the Korean Pop Idol scene in some ways is where the real horror is here – the manufactured nature of the music, the controlling abuse of the record company, and a very seedy sponsor are all far more interesting than the curse itself.
The curse is another failure, and mainly because it tries too hard. I was never sure actually what the curse was trying to achieve, and even how Eun-joo actually worked it out. It then over-complicated things by changing the actual perpetrator near the end, which really added nothing but confusion. The fact the subtitles fail to convey a lot of the music-industry speak may have held me back here.
I have been pretty harsh on the film, but it is far from horrible. It just fails to achieve its primary goal – to be scary. There is some really interesting things going on in the periphery of the story, and one or two nice moments. With a really compelling performance from someone, it could have been saved from mediocrity. Instead, it is only Mildly Recommended.