Friday, February 6, 2015

White - Movie Review

Released 2011
Directed by Gok Kim, Sun Kim

FULL DISCLOSURE:  I love Asian Horror.  I love it so hard.  I prefer how these movies actually spend time characterizing their characters.  I like the plot structures.  I love the aesthetic and how they use horror to explore other, deeper topics.  As a result, I may be more charitable to this movie than I usually would be, simply because it suits my tastes.

White tells the story of a rising K-Pop girl group, "The Pink Dolls", and the vengeful ghost that undoes them all.  A pretty standard "Angry Ghost" plot.  At the beginning, The Pink Dolls are sucking.  They get booted off talent shows and are about to hit rock bottom.  Their manager (using the magic money of their magical super-rich sponsor) moves them into a posh new studio complex, where they rehearse, record, co-habitate, and snipe at one another.  First warning shot is fired:  manager got the studio on the cheap because there was a devastating fire in the building 15 years earlier.  People died.  *spooooooopy*

The main character Eun Joo (played subtly and endearingly by Eun-Jeong Ham) is the eldest of the group, and is therefore their dubious leader.  The other three girls (all much younger and more ambitious) disrespect her frequently, and are downright bitchy to her in one particularly revealing scene.  Eun Joo is lovable, though.  She's hard-working and somewhat humble, but not a wimp.  She competently leads the girls, despite all their toxicity.

As Eun-Joo is cleaning the mirrors in the new dance studio (she wants to help out with the move-in), she finds a secret panel containing a stash of VHS tapes.

Now, I think most of us have seen enough horror movies to know that if a hole in a wall opens up and you find a stack of grimy VHS tapes, YOU LEAVE THAT SHIT ALONE.  Don't play the tape.  Don't even look at them for too long.  Just poke them back into the hole with a stick and call the cops.  But, of course, none of us would actually do that because we're too damn curious.

One of the tapes is labelled 'White', and when Eun-Joo pops it into her VCR, it plays a distorted, warped music video by the girl group who previously owned the studio.  Lacking a hit single, she shows the song/tape to her boss, they remix it, and off they go!  One costume revamp, choreography, and sexy attitude-adjustment later, and The Pink Dolls are taking off in the K-Pop charts!

Of course, no success goes unpunished in a horror movie, and soon the girls start falling prey to sinister influences.  Their manager insists that one of them needs to be the 'lead' of the song, singing most of the lyrics and taking center stage.  You know, the Beyonce of the group.  This is where everything goes downhill for The Pink Dolls.  One by one, the other girls go slowly mad and are grievously injured when they are promoted to be 'lead'.  Eventually Eun-Joo, with the help of her bff, Soon Ye, and an awesome audio engineer, begin to unravel the mystery of the killer ghost.

Now, without talking too much about the second half of the movie, I feel the need to sell you on why you should watch White.

Reason #1:  Outstanding use of creep.

This movie does one of my favorite things:  It has entire creepy scenes that are soundless.  No forbodeing music, no puckish background violins plucking out the X-Files pizzicato, nothing but an actress looking confused or terrified.  It's so lovely.  It sometimes includes small, shrill, nerve-grating sounds to build the tension, but even then, those noises exist for a practical reason in this movie.  The waves of dread that some of the scenes in White produce are just delicious.

Reason #2:  Jump-scares out the wazoo (if you're into that sort of thing).

Now, I really don't care for jump-scares.  I just don't find them compelling.  This being said, my opinion of  White suffered due to the frequency of these jump-scares.  I LOVED the creep, but then when the movie got around to making good on all that pent-up dread, it just blew it.  The gore was basic and uninspired, and somewhat of a letdown after the masterful execution of the build-up.  Sometimes the "injuries" of the girls was out and out ridiculous; almost Final Destination-esque.  Mind you, they don't completely ruin the movie, they just knock it down a peg from being the best.

This is just my opinion, though.  So why is this reason #2 for why you should watch this movie?  Because I know lots of other people LOVE LOVE LOVE jump-scares.  And let me tell you, this movie is full of them.  It will make you jerk so hard, you'll break furniture and scare your cats.  If the Bongcheong Dong Ghost scared you, get ready for that crap again, but with bells on.  Korea is nuts.

Reason #3:  It's full of amazing female characters.

Are you sick of every woman in a horror movie being a useless chunk of eye-candy?  Are you sick of watching women helplessly flail at an easily-solved situation?  Are you sick of bad acting?  Do you also secretly love American Idol?

Well, if you watched The Descent and disliked how muddy and brutal it was, but still long for a horror movie that satisfies, then White is the movie for you! It's packed with intriguing female characters, from the manager to the ghost, everyone is different and interesting.  Even when the characters are being horrible and shallow, it's extremely well-acted.  There are horrible, shallow women in the world, and I feel that White portrays them elegantly.  When somebody goes insane, it feels legitimately overwhelming, because you aren't just watching a Barbie-doll thrash around on the floor.

Further, I feel like the heart of White isn't so much about scary ghosts, but rather the complex relationships that tie women together.  Body-image, pride, the expectation to be kind, the expectation to be bitchy, the requirement to work together in an industry that is cruel and shallow, and the desire for actual friendship are just a few of the pressures clawing at these women.  Then, they have to perform sexual favors to get funding and are criticized and managed and used as if they are, truly, dolls.  The fact that there's also a vengeful ghost driving them to their deaths begins to seem like the least of their problems.  Or rather, it's an entertaining tool for getting at these harsh interpersonal subtexts. 

Reason #4: Compelling use of media.

White skips between scratchy VHS, low-res reality tv, glossy music video, thrashing live-concert footage, and conventional horror aesthetics as easily as a bird flying through clouds.  The transition between these styles is always seamless, because it's always called for by the story.  And the overall blending of these formats makes it ever more convincing that the evil imprint of a vengeful ghost could slip out into the real world.  Combine this with the eerieness of reversed audio recordings and mysterious internet activity, and you've got a multimedia cornucopia of spookiness.

In conclusion, I recommend White.  It's your comfy old Asian-ghost-with-a-grudge story, but with a slick Korean Idol update.  It's filled with the dramatic lives of pop-stars, and jumpscares galore to thrill teenagers.  In the end, I wasn't as sad for the ghost as I usually am, but I was thoroughly entertained!


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