White

What a bummer
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2011
Director: 
Gok Kim, Sun Kim
Starring: 
Eun-jeong Ham, Woo-seul-hye Hwang, Maydoni, Choi Ah-ra
The Setup: 
Ghost story set amongst hyper-competitive Korean pop groups.
Discussion: 

So I'm at my parent's house looking for something on Netflix after they've gone to bed, and this comes out of nowhere and looks amazing. The description says it's about a song found by a girl group which is a hit, yet is essentially haunted. Awesome! Then the first minutes of the movie promise much by setting it all in the hyper-competitive, fickle world of Korean pop groups, at which point expectations skyrocket, as that sounds like a fascinating milieu to poke around the dark side of. But by midway through you realize that not only is this film not going to take advantage of the myriad opportunities its premise offers, it's lucky to make it to the end with a semblance of coherence. Which is arguable.

So we begin by watching a successful performance by Pure, who are a super-fun pop group, and are currently the most popular. Next up is Pink Dolls, who have achieved less success. We can see the crowd has no enthusiasm for them, and are eventually texting and stuff during their performance. Soon after, the girls move into a new studio. Apparently Korean groups all live together in these houses that also have rehearsal space and recording studios, which I found fascinating. They also have a mysterious sponsor, Mr. Choi, who got them the place after there was a terrible fire. The girls have inter-group rivalries, and most of them hate our heroine, Eun-Ju, because she was a backup dancer, i.e. not born to stardom, and also sneer that she is "older and more experienced." So you get a lot of jealous girly bitchiness. And so far: all awesome! I love it!

So one day Eun-Ju is washing the mirrors in the dance studio--we can tell that she is a humble, good person because she keeps their studio clean--when suddenly a secret panel opens and a bunch of VHS cassettes pop out, one of which is labeled "White." They listen to the song on it, performed by a pop group whose singer has white hair, and decide that it's a hit. By the way, despite that this tape, one of many, contains a brilliant hit, they never so much as look at any of the other tapes. They decide that, even though they have no idea who wrote this song, they will make it their song at the next showcase, where they have to succeed or the group will give up and be disbanded. In here, Eun-Ju looks though a book of karaoke songs and reflects on how many singers have come and gone.

I know this will come as a complete surprise, but the song is an instant hit! And the performance of it is one of the highlights of the film, as we see the audience gradually get into it and then decide it's awesome. We see them get tons of comments and downloads and are suddenly sensations. Now here's where things start falling apart. Before you know it, they have an album and are already onto recording their second album. Where they got all the other songs for the album and whether any of those other songs became hits (or not) is not discussed. Part of the issue is our unfamiliarity with Korean pop standards, but between these factors, we're left a bit in the dark and it never gets more clear.

SPOILERS > > >
So now they're recording their second album, and it is decided that one of them will be positioned as the "main," and the others will be backup, which instantly starts setting them against each other. It is decided (they have a ruthless female manager) that member Jenny will be the main, and in the background we start catching glimpses of the white-haired singer from the White video. Jenny starts cracking almost immediately, and there is a part of the song where she has to emit a high-pitched scream, which the movie gets much mileage out of. Eun-Ju goes down to the studio after hours and finds Jenny there, hung but still alive, and one of the best moments of the movie is when Jenny vomits all over the glass partition right in front of Eun-Ju's face... it's just one of those shocking horror images. She is out of the group, but still alive.

So now one of the other girls is going to be the main... but she starts getting a rash around her eyes, and collapses while shooting a video. Then the next girl is going to be the main, and gets haunted while shooting a reality show. She comes outside, is besieged by fans, and ends up hung from a camera crane, then receives a rather unfortunate head injury when the crane falls on her. Both are hospitalized, but alive. Meanwhile, Eun-Ju is investigating what happened to the girl in the video, Jang Ye-Bin. It seems that she was also a backup singer turned star, which made her backup dancers jealous, so they threw acid in her eyes and started the studio fire, with her in it, to be the main. There is a lot of talk to an "NG" during her performance, and you go a long time wondering what in the world an NG could be. After a while, I surmised that it was a power outage, but it took a long time. Eun-Ju also sleeps with her sponsor as a way of finding out. Then she has a vision in which it is all explained, then she and her friend have a ceremony to put the spiteful ghost to rest. And it's all over! Or... is it?

Around this time you have 50 minutes of movie left, and you're wondering WHAT could possibly happen for the rest of the running time. Eun-Ju is now a solo star, and she bleaches her hair absolutely white, and suddenly has an album! Featuring the new song... White. And you're like... wait, wasn't that their breakout hit two albums ago? And she's just releasing it again? And it's a massive hit again? I guess so. All of this seems to be happening in a few weeks, as well, while in the outside world they have now had three albums released. I just don't get it.

Anyway, Eun-Ju is on her way to the song of the year contest, or something, and we can see that she has become every bit the haughty star she has been criticizing the whole movie. She takes credit for writing the song White, denies ever being a backup dancer, and even calls her best friend an "acquaintance." Meanwhile, her best friend has been doing a lot (a lot, a LOT) of playing the song backwards and listening for hidden messages and all that, none of which seems like anything more than spinning wheels, but it turns out that Jang Ye-Bin was NOT the angry ghost in question! But Eun-Ju is now too haughty to listen to her friend's entreaties.

It all ends up at the song of the year competition, which Eun-Ju handily wins, although she is NOT feeling too well. Then there's a power outage, and the doors of the auditorium close and lock, and... well, have you seen Carrie? The whole climax here is a gloss on the climax of Carrie, complete with little beats like Eun-Ju's manager getting it similarly to the gym teacher, and well, if you have nothing else going on in your movie, at least an homage to Carrie is going to keep us interested. The other three girls have woken from their comas long enough to get to the contest and perish onstage. Finally, in a so very ironic touch, Eun-Ju dies by being trampled by her fans. There is a final flashback in which we see that Eun-Ju was one of the evil backup dancers who started the fire that killed the original singer, and that's the end.
< < < SPOILERS END

It started well, and I was fascinated by the glimpse into the world of Korean pop and the intense rivalries and jealousies there, as well as the need to constantly create something new to feed the appetites of the fickle audience. But by halfway in, it has just thrown way too much on the fire, and all hopes of this forming a coherent statement are out the window. It's also pretty much PG-13, and not all that scary. In the second half, it just flies apart, and all coherence is lost. It just starts throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, and all of it is just spinning wheels until the Carrie homage, by which time you're just waiting for it to be over.

So yeah, total bummer. It had such promise, and a fascinating milieu to explore, and pretty much wastes it. Not helping matters is that it only obscures the already unfamiliar world of Korean pop, rather than making it clearer, which makes it hard to even follow what is happening, let alone get into it. So basically, a total mess. Skip it.

Should you watch it: 

Ultimately no, it's not worth it.