Korean Horror Weekend: “White”: The Melody of Death
I loved this stupid movie – and it was extremely stupid — but it also scared the shit out of me, because I don’t like ghosts. (At one point I actually screamed. I don’t think I’ve ever done that while watching a horror movie.) You can kill zombies with a good whack over the head and you can check your closets for serial killers, but with ghosts, who can walk through walls and crawl out of things like mirrors or TV sets, you’re fucked.
Just from the subtitle, Melody of Death (or the literal translation, Melody of the Curse) I was expecting something a little closer to Ringu: instead of a haunted video tape, there would be a haunted song that would kill you because you listened to it. Unfortunately, although the song is cursed, it’s a little more complicated and only curses people who perform the song.
White is a lot of fun because it introduced me a new aspect of South Korean culture that I didn’t know much about: the apparently cutthroat world of K-pop! The movie centers around a girl group called the Pink Dolls who are having a hard time getting their career off the ground. These girl groups are a lot like the boy bands that were popular here ten years ago: completely manufactured and chosen for the most superficial traits. The four girls in Pink Dolls fit the roles of the hot girl, the nice girl, the girl who can dance, and the girl who can actually sing (not a lot of thought went into character development).
The main character, Eun-joo is a sweet (but not entirely innocent) girl who is trying to succeed as a pop star despite the fact that she is older than the other group members and is trying to distance herself from her past as a backup dancer (which apparently, in this world, is a shameful thing). She doesn’t engage in the kind of pettiness and backstabbing that her group-mates do, but she also isn’t above sleeping with powerful men to improve her position.
Being a pop star isn’t just a job – it’s an all-consuming lifestyle. The girls move into a facility where they have their own recording studio, dance studio, living quarters and dressing rooms. They have a team of backup dancers, choreographers, and studio wizards who work for them, in addition to a testy agent who has little patience for the girls’ squabbles. Soon after moving into the studios, Eun-joo (played by a real-life pop star from a group called T-ara) discovers an old videotape of a girl group dancing to a catchy song called “White.” Since nobody has any claim to the song, they decide to use it as their own. “White” becomes an instant hit, which is great until their agent informs them that they need to designate a lead singer, and the fight for who deserves the main spot proves to be the Pink Dolls’ undoing.
As soon as one girl claims the lead, she’s taken down by a mysterious force, and then the next girl, and the next. Throughout the film, the ghostly white-haired figure from the videotape lurks in the periphery. Basically, this dead pop singer isn’t happy that someone else is singing her song and she must avenge the thievery, as well as her death!
This is all very creepy, and the ghost attacks are impressively audacious even when they’re too ridiculous to be truly scary. The movie undermines a lot of the fright factor by showing too much of the ghost too soon and making her a little too corporeal. The ghost pop star doesn’t just attack the girls when they are alone in the dark; she does it even when the victim is surrounded by other people, in full view of the crowd, except that the victim is the only one who can see the evil spirit. This is pretty terrifying as an idea, but a little silly as a visual. I won’t lie, though. I’m going to have trouble sleeping tonight.
The movie’s biggest weakness is that it strains credibility, and not just in the fact that it’s about the vengeful spirit of a dead pop singer. The characters simply don’t behave in ways that are recognizably human. When the curse of the song first strike, the lead singer of the moment sweats and looks violently ill, yet no one around her seems to notice? This happens over and over again. The sick-looking girl is expected to go onstage, or do a video shoot, an interview, or a strenuous dance routine and absolutely nobody notices that she’s on death’s door?
Complaints aside, I kind of loved this movie. The blurry, white-haired, disfigured ghost really freaked me out, even as the reasonable side of me knew how ridiculous and convoluted it all was. The pop star angle was a new twist that I’ve never seen in a horror film before and one I wouldn’t mind seeing again. It was a lot of fun to see all the music industry stuff, the bad dance music, the choreography, cat-fighting and costumes. Also fun: the girl group super-fans camped outside band headquarters in their sleeping bags. Seriously, is there an American remake in the works? Someone needs to get on that.