“White: Melody of Death” (aka “White: The Melody of the Curse”) was one of the first big Korean horror releases of Summer 2011, directed by twin brother directing duo Kim Gok and Kim Sun. Former indie favourites known for a series of inventive festival hits including “Self Referential Traverse: Zeitgeist” and “Engagement”, the helmers bring a similarly creative feel to their mainstream debut, spicing up the usual genre thrills and chills with some flashy visuals and a fun premise that sees the expected long haired ghost menacing a girl band. Fittingly, the film features a couple of real life popstars in its cast, headlined by T-ara member Ham Eun Jung (“Dream High”), and with support from singer May Doni, along with rising actresses Choi Ah Ra (“Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance”) and Jin Se Yun, plus K-pop cameos from the group After School and 2PM’s Jun Ho.
The film follows fictional girl group Pink Dolls, comprised of former backup dancer and team leader Eun Joo (Ham Eun Jung), insecure Je-ni (Jin Se Yun), the young Ah Rang (Choi Ah Ra), and tough rapper Shin Ji (May Doni). After failing yet again to break into the charts, their manager gives them one last chance, moving them to a new and fancy studio, which just happens to have been the site of a mysterious fire. While poking around, Eun Joo finds a video of an old song called “White”, a catchy tune which the group remakes and claims for their own. Although this finally propels them to pop stardom, they soon start to fall foul of a series of weird accidents, leading Eun Joo to believe that the tune may in fact be cursed.
The world of Korean pop and girl bands makes for an interesting choice of subject matter, and even without the ghostly goings-on, “White: Melody of Death” is filled backstabbing, deceit and jealousy, with much of the running time revolving around the girls trying to one-up each other and fighting over who will be chosen as the lead singer of the band. Directors Gok and Sun certainly make great use of the premise, and at times the film feels less like a horror film and more like a wicked satire of the music industry, with an authentically snarky feel throughout, the inter band rivalries effectively upping the tension. At the same time, the girl group theme also boosts the film by providing a fine excuse for throwing in plenty of bouncy pop music, colourful costumes and eye candy. Such amusements help to keep things moving at a good pace while neatly distracting from the basic familiarity of the plot itself, a very basic modern Asian ghost story, complete with vengeful spirit and past wrongs needing righted.
Gok and Sun prove themselves amongst the more energetic and enthusiastic directors to have tackled the genre of late, giving the film a flashy feel, with lots of quick editing and an impressive use of strong, lurid colours. The film is pretty hallucinogenic in places, with some wild visions and dream sequences, and although these are largely gratuitous and don’t make much sense, they do serve well to show off Gok and Sun’s visual talents and generate a suitably surreal, sinister atmosphere. Although most of the frights are telegraphed and unlikely to scare genre veterans, the film as a whole is very imaginative and enjoyable, with a good amount of supernatural action and a handful of pleasingly creative death scenes.
This fits well with the overall mood, and whilst scarcely original, “White: Melody of Death” is definitely one of the more satisfying and dynamic Korean horrors of the last year, as well as a surprisingly effective send-up of the country’s cutthroat music industry. Drawing upon their indie experiences, Kim Gok and Kim Sun are clearly directors unafraid to experiment a little, and the result is a film which whilst perhaps leaning towards style over substance, makes for fun and frequently exciting viewing.
Gok Kim, Sun Kim (director) / Sun Kim, Gok Kim (screenplay)
CAST: Eun-jeong Ham … Eun-joo
Woo-seul-hye Hwang … Soon-ye
Maydoni … Sin-ji
Choi Ah-ra … Ah-rang
Jin Se-Yeon … Je-ni