The glamourous world of Kpop has two faces. The glitz, lifestyle, fame and legions of fans displayed in front of the cameras has a much darker side once the cameras are switched off. The performers are forced to endure working long hours, as well as the spiteful behaviour of fellow singers ambitious to make it to the top, the constant need to reinvent through concepts to stay fresh and modern, and the ‘sex for sponsorship’ culture seemingly inherent in the industry, all of which constitute just a fraction of the intense pressure undertaken by those seeking celebrity status.
Such complex material is fertile ground for the creation of a tense psychological drama – or in the case of White: The Melody of the Curse (화이트: 저주의 멜로디), a horror. Yet rather than explore such ripe narrative devices in a detailed suspense-driven manner, screenwriters/directors Kim Gok (김곡) and Kim Sun (김선) opt for superficial, rapidly-edited scares that leave little lasting impression.
Appearing in multiple talent shows, ‘Pink Dolls’ continually fail to attract the media attention they crave in order to become the next big girl group sensation. As the slightly older leader of the group, Eun-joo (Ham Eun-jeong (함은정) has difficulty controlling the spiteful and devious natures of other members Sin-ji (Maydoni (메이다니), Ah-rang (Choi Ah-ra (최아라) and Je-ni (Jin Se-yeon (진세연). Following their latest disastrous appearance, the group move into a new studio where Eun-joo discovers a 15 year old video tape labelled ‘white’ which contains a catchy song. With no owner, Pink Dolls steal the song and re-launch themselves on television, propelling them into stardom and becoming overnight sensations. Yet with their new-found celebrity status, the relationships between the group members become even more strained and are compounded further by the mysterious activity that seems to be occurring in their new studio.
Writers/directors Kim Gok and Kim Sun deserve credit for highlighting the plight of young artists struggling to achieve success as Kpop idols, despite their rather shallow attempts at representation. The underhanded tactics of the members of Pink Dolls is interesting as they attempt to sabotage each other by poisoning cosmetics and uploading pictures on the internet. However very little tension is generated through these narrative devices which is a missed opportunity, as the potential for suspense as well as social commentary is incredibly high. Additionally, an array of important headline issues faced by Kpop idols are included in the same fashion. The Pink Dolls plagiarize a song from a prior group, yet there are no legal ramifications; Eun-joo is coerced – by her (female) manager no less – into sexual intercourse for money/sponsorship, yet there is no exploration into the psychological fallout; the intense pressure on the members to appear in media productions is present, yet their exhaustion and stress are not. Rather, those who commit such amoral deeds are ‘punished’ by the spirit that haunts the studio, but without depth applied to such narrative devices the ghost is conveyed as malevolent instead of motivated. The ‘punishment’/horror also fails as the results are temporary. Foregoing suspense-driven intensity for rapidly-edited thrills, the scenes of horror – including hanging by the neck from microphone wire, falling head-first from a platform, and being crushed by camera equipment – all leave their victims alive which diffuses any sense of finality to the proceedings.
In terms of narrative ingenuity and cinematic techniques, White: The Melody of the Curse offers nothing new but is generally competently crafted. The performances however are incredibly over-exaggerated, especially by the members of the band. Only Ham Eun-jeong – from girl band T-ara – manages a more restrained style, but the lack of character depth gives her (and her compatriots) little room in which to display her acting prowess. Ham Eun-jeong’s character is aligned with the ghost as they both have experienced similar situations, but differences appear seemingly at the whim of moving the narrative forward. White: The Melody of the Curse also suffers from the cliche of portraying the entire history of the spirit during the finale, rather than organically including it throughout the film making the backstory feel forced and (almost) unnecessary.
White: The Melody of the Curse certainly deserves credit for attempting to emphasize some of the hardships endured by those in the world of celebrity. However, the superficial portrayal of such prime material, and the decision to employ quick thrills as opposed to suspense-fueled psychoanalytic horror, results in a shallow viewing experience.