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Memento Mori Review

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by Casimir Harlow Jan 1, 2006 at 12:00 AM

    Korean cinema has been expanding exponentially over the last few years. From the War film Brotherhood to the excellent Old Boy, Korea keeps pulling off stunning new visions. Memento Mori, at least in terms of Korean cinema, is a controversial new mystery movie about an elicit lesbian relationship at an all-girl high school. Well, that's what it purports to be.

    At a Korean all-girl high school, Shi-Eun Yoo and Hyo-Shin Min are best friends. In fact they are more than just friends, spending all of their time together, writing a diary together and sharing those longing looks and live-or-die pacts that love struck teenagers might engage in. When another student, Min-Ah Seo, finds the diary, she starts to learn about this forbidden relationship and is more and more interested in the couple, intrigued by the idea of acquiring the same - as good as psychic - connection. However, when a student dies in mysterious circumstances, it becomes apparent that the diary of this secret relationship may hold all of the reasons why it took place.

    Told often in confusing flashbacks, Memento Mori is one of the longest ninety-minute films that I have ever come across. Charting the relationship of this obsessed pair of students, both in the present and through the diary's illustrations of their clandestine past, the movie comes across more like just a video diary of a year in a Korean all-girl high school (at least for the first two acts). It takes the best part of an hour for anything remotely spooky to happen and, after an hour of watching these high school girls whine and mock one another (irrespective of how cute they are or are not) I'm not sure how interested you are in seeing what happens next.

    Admittedly you can see some nice ideas showcased here, but most of them have been done before and most have them have been in better paced movies. It also does not help that the lead characters are fairly indistinguishable. Sure Young-Jin Lee's tone-deaf Shi-Eun Yoo (the more freaky of the obsessive pair) is at odds with most of the other characters but the other two girls (the other member of the pair - Yeh-jin Park - and the girl who discovers the diary - Min-sun Kim) seem overly similar and - with the film's propensity for random flashback - often difficult to differentiate.

    I know that the whole girls' high school thing might make for a slight twist - that and the strange relationship between the two main girls - but the rest of this movie is distinctly average and positively tedious. Perhaps if they had told the story from a different time-line entirely: all as current spooky happenings with brief flashbacks to explain the history of the pair, rather than try and inter-splice the present and the past, it would have been easier to digest. Perhaps if the lead characters were better developed, or the plot extended to more than just such a (largely) mundane diary-affair (until the final act), it would have been more enjoyable or interesting. As it is, Memento Mori is shamefully disappointing. Hot lesbian schoolgirls? Believe me, it's nowhere near as good as it sounds.