More a metaphysical drama than an out-and-out scarefest, "Voice" is the strongest entry in the "Whispering Corridors" franchise since the original. This fourth, Sapphic-soaked outing in the series set in haunted girls' high schools deserves some mileage on the fantasy and gay fest circuits prior to specialist ancillary.

With: Kim Ok-bin, Seo Ji-hye, Cha Ye-ryeon, Kim Seo-hyeong, Im Hyeon-gyeong.

More a metaphysical drama than an out-and-out scarefest, “Voice” is the strongest entry in the “Whispering Corridors” franchise since the striking original. A good demonstration of how Asian horror movies (especially from South Korea and Japan) often trade more on emotional underpinnings than their mechanized Western counterparts, this fourth, Sapphic-soaked outing in the series set in haunted girls’ high schools deserves some mileage on the fantasy and gay fest circuits prior to specialist ancillary.

With less than 400,000 admissions on release in July, pic made no special impact among this summer’s batch of K-Horrors, unlike its artistically weaker predecessor, “Wishing Stairs,” which clocked a robust 1.75 million in 2003. In much the same way as No. 2 in the series, “Memento Mori,” with which “Voice” has several parallels, the movie’s incipient lesbianism likely alienated its target audience of teenage girls.

However, Western viewers should respond to the movie’s stylistic invention, which marks frosh director Equan Choe, an a.d. on the 1998 “Corridors,” as a talent to watch.

Setting this time is Seonweon Girls’ High where, in an atmospheric nighttime opening, talented young singer Park Yeong-eon (Kim Ok-bin) hears a mysterious, melodious voice and ends up with her throat sliced. In the movie’s biggest riff on the genre, much of the action is then seen from her perspective as a ghost, invisible to everyone but gradually able to be heard by her best friend, Kang Seon-min (Seo Ji-hye).

Early scenes of Seon-min realizing Yeong-eon is trying to communicate with her are cleverly staged amid the bustle of school life. Initial gossip among the hormonal girls is that attractive music teacher Heui-yeon (Kim Seo-hyeong), whose voice was ruined by cancer of the larynx and who’s also rumored to be a lesbian, was responsible for Yeong-eon’s murder.

However, when Heui-yeon is found garroted by her own cello strings, suspicion switches to the school’s loner, Cho-ah (Cha Ye-ryeon). She used to be Heui-yeon’s favorite voice student until Yeong-eon came along, and is rumored to have spent time in a nuthouse.

Film’s emotional texture starts thickening after that, as info emerges about a past student, Hyo-jeong (Im Hyeon-gyeong), who’d become a tad too attached to the music teacher and seemingly threw herself down an elevator shaft when rejected. Complex plot, spinning on various rivalries and jealousies, emerges piecemeal through memory flashbacks by the dead Yeong-eon — inventively introduced by a kind of “Stargate” time-screen that appears in the school’s corridors.

At a deeper level, Choe’s script trades on the idea of ghosts only being able to communicate with the living as long as the latter remember them. Yeong-eon repeatedly urges Seon-min not to forget her, otherwise she’ll fade away, and this typically teenage emotional neediness emerges as the motive for all the various deaths.

Once again, bigscreen newbies make up the lead cast, with Seo (from TV drama) and Cha making the most impression, as the cute Seon-min and weird Cho-ah. The older Kim Seo-hyeong (from “Sweet Sex and Love”) makes a suitably foxy music teacher. Tech package is the usual Korean high quality throughout.


South Korea

Production: A Cinema Service release and presentation of a Cine2000 production, in association with Chungmuro Fund. (International sales: CJ Entertainment, Seoul.) Produced by Lee Chun-yeon, Lee Mi-yeong. Directed, written by Equan Choe (Choi Ik-hwan).

Crew: Camera (color), Kim Yong-heung; editor, Kim Seon-min; music, Lee Byeong-hun, Jang Yeong-gyu; art director, Kim Jun; costumes, An Sang-mi, Yun Mi-ra; sound (Dolby Digital), Jeong Jin-wook, Kim Seok-weon; special visual effects supervisor, Kim Ryang-jin; assistant director, Choi Jin-yeong; casting, Hong Seok-ho, Heo Jo-yun. Reviewed at CineAll 3, Bucheon, South Korea, July 16, 2005. Running time: 110 MIN.

With: With: Kim Ok-bin, Seo Ji-hye, Cha Ye-ryeon, Kim Seo-hyeong, Im Hyeon-gyeong.

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