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Film Review: Wishing Stairs (Yeogo goedam 3: Yeowoo gyedan) (2003)

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SYNOPSIS:

A staircase leading to the dormitory of a remote boarding school usually has 28 stairs, but every so often there appears to be 29. When someone steps on the mysterious extra stair, the horror begins

REVIEW:

The third installment in the Korean Whispering Corridors horror franchise once again takes us to the bitterly competitive world of all-girl high school. It follows very much along the same lines as its predecessors, offering slow burning suspense, petty rivalry and ghostly schoolgirls.

Yun Jin-sung (Song Ji-hyo) and Kim So-hee (Park Han-byul) are best friends and avid ballet dancers. While they both dream of stardom and winning the school’s annual ballet competition, the price of which is a place in a national competition and possible spot at a renowned Russian ballet school, So-hee always seems to out outdo Jin-sung. Eventually playing the eternal second fiddle starts to take its toll on Jin-sung and after hearing that a fellow student Hye-ju (Jo An), has had her deepest wish granted by a mysterious wishing stairs located on the school campus, she too decides to take a chance with the grant wishing steps.

The legend has it that if a person wishes something hard enough, an extra 29th step will appear on top of the stairs and a fox spirit will grant the person’s wish. But as it is with any deal that seems too good to be true, this too comes with a price: while Jin-sung will eventually get the coveted competition win, it is only hers after So-hee injures and subsequently kills herself. Things get even more twisted when distraught Hye-ju wishes for So-hee ‘s return and ends up possessed by her enraged spirit. Ghostly encounters and violent confrontations ensue as So-hee’s spirit decides to take its revenge on Jin-sung.

Just like most of the Whispering Corridors series, Wishing Stairs is rather subtle in its horror. The story takes its time to set things up and the actual supernatural elements do not enter the story until the last 40 minutes or so. I would not say that the beginning is boring, but at a certain point most viewers will probably start to wonder whether they are actually watching a horror film at all, or just some kind of darkly lit teen drama. As this is a story focused on jealousy and conflict between friends, the tension could have been amped up to much higher degree and more of the films set-up could have focused on Jin-sung’s bitter feelings towards her friend, as they have obviously been developing for quite some time.

There also seems to be a slight hint towards So-hee thinking Jin-sung as more than just a friend, and it would have been nice to see this aspect of the story examined in more substantial manner. Another issue is  Hye-ju’s character, who unfortunately ends up as a jarring caricature of a bullying victim. If the aim was to built sympathy for her, that task has sadly failed, as the completely implausible way she is portrayed takes away any tender feelings anyone might have had for her.

What does work for the film’s benefit is the set designs and the rather dark and moody cinematography. The dimly lit corridors, worn out classrooms and bleak midwinter sun, all come together quite beautifully to create a melancholy and ominous ambience that fits the story perfectly. Special effects vary from effective to slightly cheesy, but for the most part the ghostly encounters are relatively well executed. Some might be somewhat turned off by the blatant Ring rip-off, with ghost of So-hee climbing through an open window with her long black hair hanging on her face, but personally I would like to think that something that conspicuous must be a purposeful homage, rather than an attempted exploitation of a genre classic.

I must sound like I hated Wishing Stairs, which is not the case at all. I think it is a solid part of the late 90’s/early 00’s Korean teen horror wave and can proudly hold its place in that context. It is not the scariest or the most action packed of them, but still manages to entertain and provide some mild supernatural thrills.

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