Starts off good, anyway.
Robert P. Beveridge | Cleveland, OH | 04/13/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Wishing Stairs (Jae-Yeon Yoon, 2003)
To call Wishing Stairs the third movie of the Ghost School trilogy (as many do; the three movies are marketed as a trilogy in most places) is a bit misleading. One doesn't need to see the first two films to make sense of this, and the three were written and directed by entirely different teams, with no commonality between them save that they're all about haunted schools. (Not the same haunted school, mind you.) Actually, it seems calling it a trilogy is no longer accurate either; a fourth film, Moksori, has been released. But that's beside the point.
I liked Wishing Stairs better than Whispering Corridors, but I seem to be in the minority on that. I should say that liking one better than the other is a relative thing; they're both mediocre movies, not scary except for a few jumps here and there, but Wishing Stairs seems to be aspiring less to horror than it is to drama, and that's not a bad thing.
The story concerns two friends, Yun Ji-seong (Ji-hyo Song, now making her name for herself in TV) and Kim So-hee (Han-byeol Park), two friends who attend a competitive dance academy together. The school is known for its long outside staircase; it has twenty-eight steps, but legend has it that a twenty-ninth appears at certain times, and that anyone who ascends the twenty-ninth step is granted a wish. Ji-seong, who's not the most studious person on the planet, finds herself on the twenty-ninth step one night, and wishes to win the competition for a scholarship to a prestigious Russian dance college, a competition in which So-hee is the favorite. If you've read fairy tales, you've got a good idea of what happens next.
When Yoon is examining the relationships between the girls at the school and the first stirrings of discord sowed by Ji-Seong's wish fracture the alliances among the students, she's got a good thing going here. It's a little simplistic, but not overly so for such a complex milieu. This is supposed to be a horror movie, however, and the final half-hour or so descend into your basic survival thriller, with a good deal of running around and screaming, but very little in the way of actual terror.
Not bad, but it's been done before, and better. I'd like to see Yoon tackle a straight drama, because that part of the movie showed great deal of promise. ** ½
Stairway to Hell
K. LeBlanc | New England, USA | 07/30/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As you've no doubt already read, Wishing Stairs is the third entry in the popular 'Haunted School' series of Korean horror films, beginning with Whispering Corridors and followed by Memento Mori. Whispering Corridors was very well shot and well acted, but the real horror inflicted by the cruel, perverse, and overbearing teacher vastly overshadowed any of the supernatural horrors in it. Memento Mori functioned better as a heart-wrenching drama of the forbidden love between two school girls than as a horror film, which feels sort of tacked-on. Wishing Stairs, while not quite perfect, seems to have finally gotten the mix correct.
According to the film's legend, the 28 stairs to the dormitories are said to be enchanted by the Fox spirit, and if the 29th step appears, the Fox will grant your wish. Of course, the wish never turns out like any of the characters would hope. Enter So-Hee and Jin-Sung, two close friends who take ballet classes together (when they're not skipping school to go to concerts). So-Hee is the prettier of the two, and the more talented, however she is only taking ballet because of her mother's own life failings and doesn't really enjoy it. Jin-Sung is slightly more average-looking, and not as talented as her friend, but her passion for the art is genuine. Of course, this passion causes conflict when an audition comes up and Jin-Sung knows in her heart that she'll be passed over in favor of her more blase' friend, and this causes deep resentment in her.
So imagine her surprise when she sees the much-maligned Hye-Ju, once the school's chubby bulls-eye for cruel pranks, suddenly svelte as a result of the stairs, Jin-Sung implores the Fox to allow her to win the competition. Of course, she wins, but only as a result of So-Hee injuring her foot. After a tussle on an unrelated staircase, resulting in So-Hee's demise, Jin-Sung wins not only the audition but also the ire of her classmates.
Hye-Ju is quite distraught over So-Hee's death, as So-Hee was one of the only girls who was ever nice to her. Also, while the stairs granted her wish to be thin, she still was the same awkward and socially-stunted girl she always was, and as a result still eats to excess. Only now she ends up purging everything she eats as a result of her wish. Her life sucks now, and she begs the Fox to bring her only friend back to her, which obviously doesn't quite go as planned.
It's after this point where things go horribly wrong with the characters and the school, as it seems that the school has become haunted by So-Hee's vengeful spirit, as well as a now-possessed Hye-Ju. But are these hauntings of the supernatural variety, or are they the product of Jin-Sung's guilt and Hye-Ju's now psychotic obsession? The movie never quite explains this, and for this, I'm glad. Ultimately, this is a very tragic tale with believable characters, creepy imagery (loved the shots of the stairs), and an excellent soundtrack. However, some of the scare scenes appear lifted from other films, such as a spectral So-Hee crawling in from the window a la Sadako from Ringu (oddly, it still works, though). Other than its dips into far-too-familiar territory, Wishing Stairs remains an excellent addition to any Asian horror enthusiast's library, and my personal favorite of the series."