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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Memento Mori
Memento Mori
Tartan Video // Unrated // April 12, 2005
List Price: $21.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted April 28, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

Co-directors Tae-yong Kim and Kyu-dong Min's follow up film to the successful Whispering Corridors was 1999's Memento Mori. Though not technically a sequel the film follows up with some of the themes that the earlier movie touched on, most notably the trials and tribulations of the Korean school system and how by sweeping certain issues under the rug and refusing to deal with them the Korean establishment has caused itself some serious problems. How they made this happen was to take the basic story of two schoolgirls in love, and de-emphasize the lesbian aspect of the narrative in favor of turning it into somewhat of a ghost story.

The film begins at an all girls high school when a young woman named Min-ah (Min-sun Kim of Bloody Beach and 2099: Lost Memories) comes across a diary. As she peeks through it she finds that it details the romance between two of the girls that attend her school, Shi-eun (Young-jin Lee) and Hyo-shin (Yeh-jin Park) who happens to be a year ahead of the other two. Soon enough, Hyo-shin commits suicide by jumping off of the roof top to her death and her ghost begins to roam the halls of the school, and for some reason it seems to be concentrating on Min-ah.

Memento Mori unfolds at a rather confusing pace as it bounces back and forth between past and present but once you get used to this and get your expectations in check as to whether or not this is a horror film or a lesbian art house drama, it becomes quite interesting. While the supernatural element doesn't pick up until the last third of the movie, it isn't a chore getting there at all. The performances are sufficiently believable in that the girls for the most part all act and behave as you'd expect students in that age range to act and behave. No one goes to over the top, there aren't any bad casting choices (and by that I mean you're not going to see someone obviously in their thirties playing someone in their teens, which happens pretty regularly in Hollywood films for some reason) and everyone very much 'looks the part.'

The film handles the homosexuality aspect (a very big taboo in Korean society) with class and never delves into the realms of bad taste nor does it even come close. It infers a lot more than it shows and the movie is better off for it for if it had turned into an exploitation film it would have been hard to take seriously. Instead it concentrates more on characterization and the relationship between the three main characters and what they experience in the story, rather than the racier elements that, while hinted at, are never truly portrayed in front of the camera.

In addition to an interesting story and very solid acting, the look of the movie is quite impressive as well. The school makes for a great setting for the movie – sometimes it is dark and eerie and claustrophobic and other times it almost seems warm and friendly. Through some neat tricks of lighting and cinematography the filmmakers are able to give us two completely separate looks at the same architectural structure and spin their duel story more effectively because of it.

When it all wraps up the film is as much a political statement as it is anything else and the filmmakers' message, though hidden quietly within the context of the film, is poignant and relevant.

The DVD

Video:

Tartan gives Memento Mori a fantastic 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that really does look quite good. There's a very fine coat of film grain present but next to no print damage appears on the print. Black levels stay strong and deep and as such there aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts. The level of detail present in both the foreground and the background of the image is very pleasing and edge enhancement, while present in a few spots, isn't overwhelming at all. Skin tones look nice and natural and the color reproduction on the image is careful and accurate looking with very distinct separation and no color bleeding or softness.

Sound:

You've got your choice of watching the film in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Sound, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound or in DTS 5.1 Surround Sound. All three of the mixes are in Korean with optional subtitles available in English and Spanish. Just like the video on this release, the audio is top notch. The rear channels are used not to beat you over the head with directional effects but to slowly and carefully build atmosphere and ambience in all the right places. The dialogue comes through clean and clear without a single trace of hiss or distortion and the levels of the sound effects and the background music are mixed in nicely against the dialogue to ensure that nothing is ever overshadowed.

Extras:

Aside from trailers for other Tartan Asia Extreme releases and a decent sized gallery of promotional photos, there is a music video and a making of documentary. The music video is pretty disposable but the documentary isn't half bad. Filled with lots of behind the scenes footage, it gives a decent albeit brief overview of the central characters and of some of the themes that the film deals with. It's not going to 'wow' you, but it's worth watching once. Sadly, none of the deleted scenes, nor the commentary, soundtrack, or the alternate cut of the film that can be found on the super deluxe Korean special edition of the film are included on this release.

Final Thoughts:

While Tartan could have done a little more with the supplements on this release, Memento Mori is a very decent chiller with an unusually romantic subplot. The film looks and sounds great on this DVD. Highly Recommended despite the disappointing extra features selection.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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