I suppose the producers of the “Whispering Corridors” series figured it was too late to do anything different with the franchise now that they were at part 3. Which may explain why 2003’s ” Wishing Stairs” barely tries anything that hasn’t been tried in its two predecessors. Although to give it some credit, this third installment hits its horror strides at around the 45-minute mark, a full 15 minutes earlier than both parts one and two. In fact, the horror elements are much more active, with the ghost of a recently deceased student coming back from the beyond to terrorize her former best friend. And oh yeah, to rack up another weak bodycount — a measly 3 bodies this time around.
“Wishing Stairs” takes place once again at an all-girls school, where Ji-seong (Ji-hyo Song) and So-hie (Han-byeol Park) are best friends. Despite their tight friendship, the two couldn’t be any more different. So-hie comes from an affluent family and her future is ensured; Ji-seong lives in the school dorm and struggles with an unknown future. Their fortunes are upended when a possible scholarship to a Russian ballet school becomes available. Although both girls compete for the chance to continue their ballet career, it’s known that So-hie has the inside track. So what’s a poor girl with big ambitions to do?
Ji-seong’s “salvation” appears as the 29th step on the old stairway leading up to the school property. Although the stairway only has 28 steps, it’s rumored that if one wants something badly enough, a 29th step will appear to them, allowing them to make a wish that is certain to come true. When the school weirdo Hye-ju (An Jo), who happens to be overweight (aside from some obvious mental problems), makes a wish and starts to lose weight, Ji-seong takes the dive. The result is the death of her best friend, who later returns as a ghost in search of some payback.
Considering the premise, it’s obvious we’re dealing with the premise of “Wishmaster” here. In both films, a seemingly benign wish turns disastrous for the wisher. The same thing happens to both Hye-ju and Ji-seong; although their wishes come true, there’s a twist, and a terrible price to pay. It’s to the film’s detriment that it focuses too much on Ji-seong, because the situation surrounding the formerly overweight Hye-ju, played admirably by An Jo, is much more interesting. As a result, Hye-ju’s problems get mostly shortchanged in favor of the character getting possessed by the spirit of So-hie so she can chase Ji-seong through dark hallways. One subplot, involving the status of Hye-ju’s appetite in the aftermath of her wish, was screaming out for further exploration.
Like the other installments in the series, “Wishing Stairs” is not scary at all. Although this second sequel features more attempts at eliciting scares, the script is much too derivative and uninspired to be entirely successful. Everything you’d expect to find in an Asian horror film is here, including but not limited to: slow pans to reveal the ghost in the background; said ghost having long black hair and standing perfectly still, hair draped over her face; said ghost crawling out of tight confines; and too many other cliché of the burgeoning genre to mention. Another South Korean movie, “Phone”, was equally derivative, but was nevertheless more effective in its execution. Everything here just seems perfunctory.
As was the case with the other installments, the only real effective moments of “Wishing Stairs” all involve its non-horror moments. The characters are once again trapped in an educational system that pits them against each other rather than support their individual personalities. Here, our main characters are ballet dancers competing for the same prize. Cutthroat competition is encouraged, with the winner being rewarded with the affections of the teachers. But curiously the movie isn’t staffed with physically abusive teachers. In fact, the students seem much more assertive toward — and even dismissive of — their teachers. Color me surprise that no teacher randomly beat a student once in the entire movie.
“Wishing Stairs'” best assets are its young actors. The young women that make up the cast are all newcomers, with the exception of An Jo who, according to IMDB.com, had a role in “Peppermint Candy”. The only possible sore spot is Ji-Yeon Park, who plays the clich’d school bully Yun-ji. As you might expect, Yun-ji meets a most brutal ending. Although considering the lack of a comeuppance in “Memento Mori” toward that installment’s bullies, maybe saying that the bully’s bloody ending in “Wishing Stairs” is “expected” is not entirely true.
As a horror film, “Wishing Stairs” doesn’t scare at all, so you needn’t put away the children when watching it. Although I have to give it credit for at least trying to scare the audience. Alas, the movie is full of cliché and grudging acceptance of genre conventions, and as such anyone who has seen their share of Asian horror films will see the “shock” moments coming a mile away. Needless to say, I felt as if I was constantly five scenes ahead of the movie; and when you can predict a movie that far ahead, someone’s not doing their job.
Jae-yeon Yun (director) / Kim Su-A, Lee Yong-Yeon , Eun Si-Yeon, Lee So-Yeong (screenplay)
CAST: Ji-hyo Song …. Yun Ji-seong
Han-byeol Park …. Kim So-hie
An Jo …. Eom Hye-ju
Ji-Yeon Park …. Kim Yun-ji