Wishing Stairs is the third in the South Korean high school horror trilogy, and my personal favourite, with Whispering Corridors and Memento Mori coming 2nd and 3rd. The movie revolves around 28 steps leading up to a high school girl's dormitory. But there's also a legend. "If the 29th step appears, it'll grant your wish. ... If you wish really hard, the fox will listen out of pity." So says Kim Soh-wee to her friend Yoon Jin-Sung. Both are high school students at the Yonghwa Art Institute, a specialized art school. True, the fox may grant a wish, but a backlash in the form of tragedy and terror occur as a result, with the wishing student meeting death. All that's due to the competition and jealousy that flare up at a specialized art school.
Soh-Wee is pretty, friendly, lively, and a kind of leader that other students look up to. She's also generous, as she buys concert tickets for herself and Jin-Sung, ditching school, and also the only one to be nice to Uhm Hae-Ju, a rather porky girl whom everyone else teases. However, Soh-wee is also the prima ballerina at school, and when the 26th Seoul Ballet contest arrives, with only one student allowed to nominate the school, despite the teacher Ms. Muhn's assurances of a fair audition, it's basically an audition in name only. But as Ms. Muhn says, the role of Giselle (in Adolf Adamson's Giselle and Albrecht) requires one to convey a lot of emotion, which is no problem for Soh-Hee.
As for Jin-Sung, she's a bit shy, sort of uptight, isn't that good at ballet, and is clearly overshadowed by her prettier friend. She wants to win just once, and she falls prey to jealousy. She climbs the stairs and guess what she wishes for? For her, the backlash occurs when Soh-Hee, whom she was in a tussle with, commits suicide. Despite winning the competition, Jin-Sung is hated by her peers.
The fat and unpopular Uhm Hae-Ju aspires to be a sculptor, as she even made a replica of the wishing stairs. But her disconnect with the real world prevents her from making friends, and in her loneliness and boredom, she eats. Her trip up the stairs results in dramatic weight loss, but being distraught over Soh-Hee's death reverses her condition. And she's also prey to the nasty Han Yoon-Ji, who's determined to win an art competition with her sculpture.
Comparing the warm friendship Soh-Wee and Jin-Sung had at the beginning to the destruction of that warmth is shattering, as Soh-Wee feels hurt and betrayed by her friend's jealousy, especially when Jin-Sung says she hates her and that she makes her feel miserable. It's almost as if they were a couple, with more feminine Soh-Wee being the romantic and loving wife. She even expresses the wish when they turn 20, to live together in an apartment. What was her wish on the stairs? That she and Jin-Sung would always be together. But alas...
There are particular chapters in this film, beginning when a student goes up the stairs, and ending with the aftermath. Scary moments? There are the brief flashes of Soh-Hee dancing around, but what about when the shower water suddenly turns to blood? And there is a Ringu-inspired scene of a white-robed girl climbing through a window.
As the prettiest Korean actress I've ever seen, Park Han-Byul is the glittering jewel of Wishing Stairs as Soh-Wee. Jo An steals the movie, where she gives a comical touches as Hae-Ju, from the funny sounds she makes to the way she runs or waddles off. But she gets Soh-Hee's facial expressions and footwork down when Hae-Ju is possessed by Soh-Hee.
I note similarities between Wishing Stairs and W.W. Jacobs' short story "The Monkey's Paw," where fate is a theme. In the latter, a father is given a monkey's paw that'll give him three wishes. He wishes for 1) a large sum of money, 2) the return to life of his young son-whose death resulted in the company giving the money-and 3) that everything would be back to normal again. Well, the second and third wishes also are present in Wishing Stairs.
A brilliant cast, tight acting, and superior production values make Wishing Stairs a great, scary, but ultimately tragic story.
on July 30, 2007
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.
on August 7, 2005
I rented this because I really liked the first in this unrelated "series", Whispering Corridors. This 3rd movie has come a long way visually and with budget. It scared the HELL out of me visually at times. Unfortunately it also confused me. I wasn't expecting flashbacks and sequences that you had no way to be sure if they were real or not, and the plot just wasn't strong.
Two friends at a girl's school in Seoul take ballet class in school. It came naturally for So-hee, but Jin-sung has to work very hard to be good and the teacher reminded her. So-hee had been sitting out injured w/ wraps to heal. As things move along, we see that So-hee is an adorable, vibrant personality that does things spontaneously, like sneaking out to a concert or into the school dorm to talk to Jin-sung late at night. One night she says she only does ballet because her mother forces her and she'd rather quit. Then she says that it makes her feel alive. Before she leaves she tells Jin-sung that in 10 years they'll be performing in London, her as Giselle (the lead) and Jin as some other character and leaves. So-hee is also pretty insensitive, clueless, and self-preoccupied. Around this time, the fat, crazy girl in the school with orange hair has been wandering around- being weird. The "wishing stairs" are mentioned and explained in the beginning, and her fascination. One day- she appears to have lost weight, but she still acts and walks awkwardly- she tells Jin-sung what happened. In the meantime, it has been announced that there will be an audition and the best goes to a competition where the winner goes to ballet school in Russia. No one is excited because So-hee takes off her wraps and dances like she was never injured- which inspires gossip. Jin-sung overhears So-hee getting pointers on her dance,etc. -So-hee is so self-centered you really want Jin-sung to win!!
Jin goes to the stais, makes a wish to go to the competition -totally innocent. The next day she breaks a glass in the locker room and switches toe shoes- she comes out ans as Soo-hee dances, her foot starts to bleed badly. Ignoring it, she finishes perfectly and no one mentions it. After that Jin doesn't even want to talk to So-hee who keeps bugging her. Things come to a head on a staircase where Jin tells her she hates her and So-hee, used to getting everything she wants, grabs her. Jin tries to get loose and Soo-hee falls down the stairs. Jin wins the competition in So-hee's place and we see her go to the hospital. So-hee looks fine and is wheeling around in a wheel-chair. Next day- news that she's dead(?!?!?) and everyone is mad at Jin. That's when the crazy girl mourns the loss of her secret idol by asking the stairs to bring her back to her. That's when the hauntings and possessions begin. The scene of So-hee as a dead girl in her costume following Jin and dancing was terrifying! 5 stars to that, but other things were just too confusing and not explained after that. At the beginning and that one point, it IS the movie described on the box, before it shatters into confusion again.
This is the third movie in the Whispering Corriders series.
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
on October 11, 2006
Wishing Stairs is definitely the weaker of the so called "trilogy" of movies, despite them having not very much in common, apart from they're all set in a high school. And have a recurring theme of schoolgirl relationships. Apart from that, there's nothing that memorable about Wishing Stairs.
I loved how it was called after a set of 28 stone steps, which if you counted, a 29th step would appear and you could make a wish. But what you don't know is that the wishes can ultimately turn out to be curses. The fat girl wishes to be skinny, so becomes bulimic. A ballerina wants to be better than her friend, so attempts to eliminate the competition. When an artist wishes her art was more lifelike, she becomes her art - when of the most horrific scenes you will see. Look closely. Is this what you get for wishing? Is it like when you do magic, it comes back to you ten-fold? Cos I'm never gonna wish again if this is the case!
But the rest of the storylines set around this seemed a bit of a mess. There were too many storylines thrown into one film. There were two girls who were obviously very close, and then there was a third, who was overweight (but pretty), and I think fancied one of the girls - but I wasn't sure which one. A fair part of the story (the often obsessive relationship between the two girls) is borrowed from Memento Mori, the previous film.
The only problem about Hae-Ju, the overweight girl, is she wears a fat suit in the film, but sometimes she goes from skinny to big again, and then she dyes her hair black which makes it hard to distinguish from the rest of the characters. She was the one memorable character, solely because you felt her anguish.
The thing about Japanese "horrors" (when do you think Hollywood will remake this trilogy?) is they're never really scary. They work on your mind, rather than make you jump out your skin and hide behind the couch. But they succeed that way.
I'd highly recommend each film as a stand alone film, but there was just something about Wishing Stairs - the muddle of storylines - that didn't work for me, and I preferred Memento Mori & Whispering Corridors.
Don't they have cool titles though? And the cover is so unique.
on August 18, 2005
This is a great Horror flick, with one of the eeriest soundtracks ever. (Where can I get the OST?)
As with most Eastern Horrors, the terror is more psychological than slash-o-logical, but I find this method more creative. And after watching a horror flick late at night then walking down the darkened hallway to my bedroom, my imagination is more frightened of meeting a ghost than meeting some bloke with a big knife.
I must admit, I had to watch the film twice to fully understand the story, but it's really not as confusing as some people make it out to be. And one reviewer even sounded confused by the news of one character's death the day after she "looks fine". This has me wondering if this American version is cut, because in my Region 3 Korean version, the character in question does die (they even show a graphical image of her death).
On the video cover, I guess the dead girl hanging from the tree at the top of the stairs wasn't obvious enough for Americans, so they replaced it with a radiant noose which, perspective-wise, looks like it must be enormous.
Other films in this series (without any connection to each other) are "A Horror In High School" aka "Whispering Corridors," and "Memento Mori."
on February 26, 2006
Seeing as I am warming up more to Korean film after seeing A Tale of Two Sisters and being very impressed, I decided to give this one a shot. It's a great first film for director Jae-yeon Yun, but I found this movie to be far too predictable. Also, it tends to lack in originality in some aspects, such as the ghostly scenes of a pale girl with long black hair partially covering her face is far too reminicent of Ju-on. But it's definately worth a watch for horror movie fanatics.
on August 29, 2006
"Wishing Stairs" is the third installment to the "Yeogo Goedam" series, with "Whispering Corridors" and "Memento Mori" being the first and the second parts respectively. Although I must say all three are not sharing any of characters so the only common things here are ghosts and schools for girls. Maybe "Wishing Stairs" wake memories of Dario Argento's "Suspiria" more than others because here the action takes place in a ballet school.
Not far from the school dormitory there's a staircase and the legend has it that, if ascending, you count out loud all 28 stairs, 29th one will appear and you'll be able to ask for a wish which then will be granted. It's not necessary to mention that girls regretted all the wishes they had asked for.
"Wishing Stairs" is very different from both previous pictures. "Whispering Corridors" and "Memento Mori" were more human dramas than horror, they concentrated on characters' relationships mainly while the last part is simplier. It's a straightforward horror with many intricate and sophisticated scary moments. And it seems that its main purpose is to scare. "Wishing Stairs" has a rather ingenuous story-line which is easy to follow, even flash-backs that were hard to distinguish in previous films are pretty distinguishable here. And it has common for many horror movies moral that says you'll have to pay for every deed of yours, for every wish. As previous parts "Wishing Stairs" also has a theme of friendship and rivalry hence you'll find many many things in the film you were ready for as well as something new. Only "Stairs" are more action-packed, more intense and more frightening. If you like Korean horror this movie is exactly what you are looking for.
on April 7, 2006
After other entries in the Korean Horror Canon like the wonderful 'Tale of Two Sisters' and the original and affecting 'Into the Mirror', I was very pleased to rent 'Whispering Stairs' from my local video library - a place, I should add, that doesn't stock movies more than five years old, and to whom foreign language films seem to be the work of the Devil himself.
Now that I've watched it, I have to disagree with most of the reviews posted here and tell you that it's just not particularly good.
The basic plot concerns four girls attending an Academy of Art. Two are dancers, and two are sculptors. Popular, pretty dancer Soh-Wee, forced into her studies by an overambitious mother, runs afoul of her friend Jin-Sung, who's not as talented. Hearing the legend of the Wishing Stairs from the portly and unpopular Sculptor Uhm Hae-Ju (who, in turn, is bearing the shame of inferiority from her own more talented classmate Han Yoon-Ji), she makes the pilgrimage and wishes that, just once, she could best her friend at dancing - the prize being a scholarship at a Russian ballet academy.
Cue death, mayhem, lots of dark hallways, and - surprise! - a girl with long black hair in a white nightgown crawling on all fours. Hideo Nakata must have seen this and laughed.
The biggest problem with 'Wishing Stairs' is that it just doesn't have any consistency in the pacing of the picture. It's confusing. Director Jae-yeon Yun has been a little overambitious in her obvious desire to create a sense of ambiguity, and to blur the boundaries between fantasy and reality. The end result is a disjointed and jarring narrative which ends up being quite boring, and one that doesn't really let us get to know the characters.
But that's not a big problem, since the characters are all pretty one-dimensional - save for Uhm Hae-Ju (whose constant mumblings and fumblings are comic, and serve to negate any empathy we may have felt for the character), and the opening forty minutes are very, very slow. It would have been different if the screenplay had gone more into the psychological backgrounds of these girls, but sadly it does not, so what we're left with is a pretty black-and-white case of stock jealous teens taking revenge on one another.
There's not much of a supernatural element to this, either. Director Jae-yeon Yun's total overreliance on elements from other horror movies that we've all seen before (bloody showers in "Carrie", dead bodies shored up as sculpture in "House of Wax", independent reflections in mirrors in "Into the Mirror", the eponymous girl-in-white-nightgown in "Ringu", "Ju-On", and so forth) does the worthwhile fable in this story a huge disservice. We've seen it all before, both Asian and Western, and done far better than this.
There are one or two worthwhile moments towards the end of the movie - the reprise of the stairwell scene between Jin-Sung and the ghost of Soh-Wee is chilling, and the end of Uhm Hae-Ju is effective - the only part of the movie, I have to say, where the essence what that character ought to have been is allowed to shine through, without over-the-top exaggerations of speech and manner.
If you're curious to see it, then rent it. But it's not really worth buying, you'll not have a desire to see this more than once.
on May 30, 2006
South Korean WISHING STAIRS delivers the goods by staying with its atmospheric agenda and by scoring high in its production values. Han-byeol Park and Ji-hyo Song star as the two best friends who quickly become foes when one of them excels more at ballet. Before you can utter green eyed monster, the school 29th "wishing" stair grants one desperate girl's fervent desire to take center stage--with expected deadly results. First-time director Jae-yeon Yun sticks to the old school of horror formula and succeeds at giving chills despite a slow and sometime uneven pace. Some of her scenes are quite impressive (like the jumping jack airborne choreography), but a certain sluggishness in the script tends to sabotage the film's winning streaks. A mere 10 minute snip here and there would have made all the difference. Still, WISHING STAIRS is a must see event, if only for its colorfully-given performances and its hauntingly-driven plot. 28... 29...-----Martin Boucher