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High School can be rough. The classroom can be a virtual hurricane of awkward adolescence, each raging with hormones, confused sexual tastes and a need for social acceptance. This is not to mention the terror inducing ghosts of the mistreated youth, of which no High School is complete without.

This time, Brad Pitt's wife's head was not in the box.
Memento Mori translates to ‘remember the dead’, and when the dead die in the amidst the angsty horrors of confused sexual repression and raging hormones, they want to be remembered. Our story begins when preppy protagonist Min-Ah happens upon a lost diary. Her curiosity gets the better of her so she takes it and begins the arduous task of combing through its impeccably rendered pages. The mystery book turns out to be a shared diary of two classmates, Hyo-Shin and Shi-Eun; girls Min-Ah had seen, yet not known personally. Further reading reveals their relationship went much deeper, and that the two friends were at one time truly in love.

Min-Ah watches the now seemingly distant lovers from a-far, much to the chagrin of her own close friends, who feel neglected. It seems everyone, including Min-Ah herself is having some kind of existential crisis. The troubled investigation continues, revealing a falling out between Hyo-Shin and Shi-Eun, due to the school’s disapproval of their romance. As curiosity verges on obsession, there is an accident. Before the audience can say, ‘I see dead people’, one of the lovers is found in a pool of blood.

Doed my palm taste like lemon or balogna, I can't decide.
Despite the basic plot pertaining to the unnatural phenomenon of malicious, undead spirits, Memento Mori is not a horror film. Instead it is a tender, sometimes overwhelmingly emotional romantic-tragedy. The story is filtered mostly through Min-Ah’s eyes and mind, but in the end is not her story. Interestingly enough she, her personal friends, and the supernatural elements of the script could have all been easily erased without changing the basic plot or message at all. However, it is the extraneous elements that make Memento Mori a better than average film, perhaps even one I could consider special.

Tag-team writer/directors Tae-Yong Kim and Kyu-Dong Min have a very fluid filming style, and the kinetic editing helps move the plot while maintaining a certain sense of immediacy. In contrast, longer takes take on a deeper meaning, allowing the audience to ponder the often-melancholy emotions of the on screen characters. Their only directorial missteps come when they attempt to present the horrific elements in a typical Hollywood horror film manner. These sequences feel quite out of sorts, and in the end are simply not scary, even stooping so low as to directly rip-off set-pieces from other films.

The young actresses are uniformly terrific, exuding the correct emotions whilst not coming off as phoney. Most of them don’t appear to even be acting at all, simply living the events of the film as they occur, as any fifteen to eighteen year-old Korean schoolgirl would. Min-sun Kim, who portrays main character Min-Ah, is especially good considering hers was the role that required the greatest arc, and the fact that she represents the audience’s reactions to the story.

Wait a minute...it was John Tutoro's lover's head in the box.
Video
Cinematographer Yoon-Soo Kim has crafted a beautiful pallet, full of vibrant and eerily artificial colours. Most of the film takes place in rather broad daylight or under the bright lights of the classroom, which come across sharply and brightly. The dark sequences, which encompass the final forth of the film, aren’t nearly as crisp and suffer from some heavy digital grain. For the most part, however, the grain does not hurt the picture and can go by unnoticed, considering the viewer’s personal involvement with the narrative. The titular diary's intricate design and the spirit's high contrast "ghost vision" are highlights of this nice anamorphic transfer.

Audio
Memento Mori is not an audibly aggressive film. There is, of course, some eerie score and sound effects throughout, but most of the audio is made up of dialogue, which is well centred and clear, without any hiss or distortion. When music or the occasional directional effect does crop up, the presentation is satisfying, if not remarkable. There are some pretty cheap audio scare cues which feel very out of place, but the music is, for the most part well selected and classy. Unfortunately there isn’t enough dynamic sound present to warrant a particularly high audio presentation score.

Dammit, I speak Korean, not English, and bloody well not Latin.
Extras
Tartan USA has scrounged up an acceptable catalogue of special features. These start with a brief ‘making of’ featurette. Though it was most likely intended to be a press pack, the featurette is nonetheless interesting to watch. Mostly consisting of brief interviews with the main players and roughly edited behind the scenes footage, it offers no real insight into the film itself, but manages to make clear the effort put into the modest production. Most intriguingly, it seems to contain the making of several deleted scenes.

The rest of the features are the usual advertising standbys including a photo gallery housing stills from the film, a music video and a trailer library. The music video is made up of more behind the scenes footage mixed with film clips put to one of the film's more prevalent classical tracks. It seems to be more of an elongated trailer than a music video, which is not at all uncommon for movie based music videos. The trailer library contains the trailers of Tartan’s entire Asia Extreme collection, including Memento Mori’s semi-prequel Whispering Corridors, which appears to be much more inspired by Dario Argento’s Suspiria than a tragic love story.

Memento Mori
Overall
Memento Mori, it should be doubly noted, is the second part of a loosely related trilogy of Korean schoolgirl horror flicks. I’ve not seen either of the other films, but it seems Memento Mori works fine as a stand-alone feature. It shares no cast or credits with the other two films. People looking for a scary Asian horror film may want to look elsewhere; however, those in search of another example of the unrivalled beauty that is modern Korean cinema should defiantly check it out.


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