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Wishing Stairs
cast: Ji-hyo Song, Han-byeol Park, An Jo, Ji-yeon Park, and Sua Hong

director: Jae-yeon Yun

100 minutes (18) 2000
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Tartan Asia Extreme DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Just because it is eastern, supernaturally themed and getting a DVD release in the UK doesn't automatically mean it's good. I get the impression that the Korean Wishing Stairs, directed by Jae-yeon Yun, was the tail end of a package deal, involving Whispering Corridors and Memento Mori, though with those two, I have to confess ignorance to content and quality. They are the better-known South Korean schoolhouse ghost movies in the series and I am assuming there is a reason for that.

Drawing heavily on the Japanese movie hits and that country's fetish for girls in school uniform, Wishing Stairs takes place in a girls' school where the lessons principally appear to be ballet and clay modelling. Jin-sung (Ji-hyo Song) and So-hee (Han-byeol Park) are the best of friends, Jin-sung the garrulous one, while So-hee is slim as a pin and not much less feisty. With the 26th Seoul Ballet Contest coming up and a potential place in the Bolshoi for the winner, even the closest of friendships can be influenced and both girls want nothing more than to perfect their Giselle for the competition. Jin-sung would seem to prize it more, but it is clear that So-hee is the more likely taker of the prize. Completely loopy Hae-ju (An Jo) is the only fat girl in school, the result of face feeding binges in her loneliness. Her only friends are dolls and she acts like a five-year-old. She believes in the 'wishing stairs', 28 steps on the school grounds that, if you can find its invisible 29 step, will give you a wish, though it is a wish with a classic clause cursing the grantee to the foulest of misfortunes. She wishes away her flabby arse and chops and Jin-sung actually notices this, which no other in the blind lot of schoolgirls or teachers do. How very much into themselves they must be, especially when several are slats looking for skinnier still, you would think they'd be hounding Hae-ju for her secret. Understanding that the wishing stair might be real, Jin-sung is the next one counting to 29 and asking that represent the school in the contest. And just as Jin-sung went up the stairs to make her wish, so So-hee falls down another staircase in order to grant it. So-hee is hospitalised, betrayed by the friend she had declared a love above all for. Suicide, murder, ghosts, possession and other fatal incidents follow.

Well-shot and technically sound, the story dithers and falters over the first half and the bad impression is compounded by the juvenile players and their occasionally pantomime performances. Hae-ju is particularly ludicrous, but there is also the small talk and piffle with which a substantial proportion of the dialogue is hexed. It fails to progress the plot and grates on the viewer. A sequence studying the feet of a ballerina does not attempt the standard lie of body doubles through the rarely credible device of busy editing by holding onto a close-up at length. The shot fails as it only succeeds in giving you time to be offended by the ploy. The soundtrack is sinisterly good, at times with a similarity to the abandoned Coil musical box score for Hellraiser.

The 18 rating would appear to come from nowhere. There is none of the sadism that Hollywood blockbusters get away with. As it moves to its close there are some clever moments, but the original jolts are done down by the clear theft in other scenes. A longhaired ghost coming through an open window mimics the actions of Sadako from Ringu. The closing collage of horrors does declare its creativity and the barrage is steadily relentless with ghosts appearing between legs and in trees, but it is a little too late and interrupted by the familiar tricks. Never a fan of Suspiria, that Argento film suddenly looks a bit better next to this. It is a film that was possibly in mind when making, and Narciso Ibanez Serrador's La Residencia may have been equally influential, though there is less of a guarantee that the director is familiar with that film. Not without merit but far from good enough.
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