"The first day a girl is found dead, with her head emptied out. Perhaps she had remembered the truth".
A sequel of sorts to Whispering Corridors, Memento Mori takes place in a Korean girls school where So Min-ah (Kim Min-Sun) discovers a diary containing recorded fragments of an illicit affair. Two fellow pupils - Yoo Shi-eun (Young-Jin) and Min Hyo-Shin (Ye-Jin) - suffer condemnation from teachers and class mates as their lesbian relationship gathers momentum, moving from innocent rooftop encounters to a full-blown public display of affection; at least, for one of the girls.
As a love story, Memento Mori spins a tale of happiness, rejection and, ultimately, a great sadness which appears to reach out from beyond the grave. A passage in Hyo-Shin's diary reads, "You'll die if you stop loving me", and subsequent events do include a death; at least, from one particular viewpoint. Suicide, murder or neither? Perhaps Memento Mori (Latin for "remember that you must die") is a fever dream of longing and regret from the imagination of one of two major performers? Whatever, this is a film that's rich in characterisation with a trio of near pitch-perfect turns - and also contains haunting, often downright unnerving imagery: a trapped bird fluttering round a classroom, acting as a premonition for an imminent night of terror; half-glimpsed figures that haunt the rooms and corridors of the school; an empty swimming pool painted with crosses that may acknowledge the five deaths we are told have previously occured ( a 7th will, apparently, result in the school closing) and there's an Argento-esque nightmare to endure when the rain finally arrives and the entire school is 'sealed off' from the world outside. Simply brimming with visual metaphors, Memento Mori's literal slant only touches briefly on the relentless pressures of the Korean system of learning, electing instead to examine its fallout: peer pressure, forbidden same-sex love , teacher/pupil relationships and the eternal shame attached to the act of suicide on both sides of the divide.
On a horror/cult movie level, it combines the hallucinatory horros of Repulsion with Lynch-ian flourishes that reside in a Pandora's Box where the past and the present are as one.
By all accounts, Tai Seng's Region 1 DVD presents this film in the worst possible light, with horribly distorted colours making it well nigh impossible to watch. Interested parties are, therefore, directed to Spectrum's Region 3 disc which looks terrific. Here, bold rock-steady colours and good shadow detail make for a visual treat. Extras are rather thin on the ground, but the inclusion of the original soundtrack (running for 27m 45s) is a real bonus, providing an opportunity to hear that beautiful main theme in isolation, amidst a dozen other tracks.
There's also a theatrical trailer which includes a shot of Hyo-Shin and Shi-eun sharing a bath. Both the Korean government and the film company insisted that Memento Mori should be cut prior to release, and this short trailer certainly suggests the intimate side of their relationship was examined in more depth than is now the case.
The coming months should see the availability of a Memento Mori sequel, while a 3rd film is on the way. For now, this beguiling mystery further enhances the reputation of South Korean cinema. It's a little too heavy with symbloism at times, but ultimately, Memento Mori is a rewarding experience that leaves us eager to continue the story.
"And on the seventh day, a girl is going to die. Perhaps...."