Haunted Dormitory: White Paper Girl
Yuyan has recently become haunted by disturbing nightmares. Some time ago her best friend, Susu’s affections for their mutual friend, Xue Jun, were rejected. And after learning that Yuyan and Xue Jun were dating, Susu, overcome with feelings of betrayal and rejection, committed suicide by drowning herself in a nearby pond. Ever since her friend’s death, Yuyan has been plagued almost every night with malevolent dreams of Susu. Her boyfriend and her dorm-mates just think she’s overwrought with feelings of misplaced guilt. But Yuyan’s dreams suddenly seem to take real-world form, as Susu starts haunting not only Yuyan, but also starts appearing to her friends and boyfriend as well. Yuyan and her friends do their best to assuage Susu’s restless spirit, but pretty soon large paper dolls bearing Susu’s likeness start appearing and following the friends around the dorm. By the time people start disappearing Yuyan fears that it may be too late for anyone to try to placate the restless feelings of the dead.
After holding it off for a year, I finally decided to return to the short series of horror movies from China’s Haunted Dormitory franchise, which as of right now only consists of two films, Marionette Teacher, and this first outing, White Paper Girl. Based on the second film, I really wasn’t holding out too much hope that this one would be any better. Especially since the summary on the IMDB site is just as atrocious for this movie as it was for the sequel. And I quote:
“Because of his lover’s refusal to come to the name of Vu – his best friend, Su Su too heartbreaking suicide. Since that tragic event, Vu Yen has always been in his heart, even often dreaming of nightmares. Increasingly, the nightmare becomes more real and becomes horrifying in the female dorm.”
For those who don’t believe me
I mean, come on. What does any of that even mean? Who is Vu? What’s going on? No wonder no one else has watched these things. They have absolutely no idea what on earth to expect. Someone should go on there and fix that crap.
Anyway, luckily I was proven wrong in my initial assumption, but only marginally. Because while the movie does do some things better than it’s sequel, it’s still burdened with many of the same problems it’s follow-up had, and the film even adds some of its own issues to the mix to add to the already overburdened list.
Sub-Issue #1: Why is your paper cutting SO LOUD!?
Glaring issue number one is that the subtitles to these films are still absolutely horrible. Thankfully, most of it is understandable enough so that English speakers can actually understand what’s going on, but not without some effort put in on the viewer’s part. The subtitles still come at you at a rapid-paced speed, meaning dedicated viewers will likely have to do a bit of backtracking to catch everything that’s being said. And that issue is further compounded by the often questionable grammar and complete lack of punctuation. I know that translation is considered more of an art-form than a science and not everything is going to be 100% perfect, but in this case I’m pretty sure that the dialogue was just run through a quick translation filter before the translators called it a day. And anyone who’s used something like Google Translate knows about how well that method works. People are constantly mixing up words in a sentence, using the wrong tense, wrong expression, or just plain old using the wrong words. Most of what’s presented here is simply not how standard conversational English works, which just makes watching the movie more of a chore than it needs to be. I mean, nobody talks about “revengeful” ghosts. Is that even a thing? So, as it stands, the questionable grammar, lack of punctuation and the speed at which these things come at you, means that when multiple people are talking you’re not going to know who’s saying what, because you can’t tell who’s saying what line, or even what they’re saying, because you’re often forced to translate the translation. And that’s assuming they leave the subtitle up long enough for you to read it. The whole thing just feels like one giant cautionary tale of how NOT to translate your movie. And the sad part is, if someone actually went back in and re-did the subtitles, watching the movie might actually be much more enjoyable. At the very least it would be a much less frustrating experience. But I won’t hold my breath for that.
You’re telling me.
Another issue is that there are just too many characters in this film. Not so much that you can’t keep track of them (though that does become an issue when the film likes to change the spelling of their names on occasion), but more so because there just isn’t enough going on for all of them to do. There’s only a total of 5 girls and 2 guys, and even with no secondary characters to speak of, it still feels like it’s too much. Two of them barely have a role beyond a couple of lines, and their personalities are so generic that there just isn’t anything about them to help them stand out. It really just feels like they exist solely to have a couple more bodies to go missing. But if the film had cut two of them out, the viewer wouldn’t have even missed them and the film wouldn’t have lost anything of importance.
Like, no offense, but if a couple of you could just go home, that’d be swell.
One thing this movie does at least somewhat better than it’s sequel, is the story. Where the plot for Marionette Teacher ended up feeling over-broad by attempting to shoehorn in a bunch of unnecessary angsty romance drama into a ghost story, the story here feels much more focused. Yes, the romance aspect is still there, with the same actors (as the two films use the same set of characters), this time with it being an actual center-point of the plot. But unlike the second film, in the first film the focus still remains on the mystery surrounding the ghost, with the romantic aspect taking a place on the back-burner. Which means, unlike the sequel, the tone of this first film stays primarily focused on the mystery angle, instead of haphazardly jumping between the dark notes of horror and the soft, pastel shaded filters they used in the second.
But unfortunately, despite the film’s best intentions and all the good they did on the build-up, White Paper Girl then chooses to completely bungle it all with one of the most ridiculous endings I think I’ve ever seen in a mystery like this. I mean, I thought the ending to the Marionette Teacher was ridiculously bad, but compared to this one that ending was a well-crafted masterpiece. Sure, it may have felt like something pulled straight out of an episode of Scooby-Doo, but it was still better than this. What’s worse is that having watched the second film first, I actually had a suspicion of the “twist” I was pretty sure was coming, but even I was struck by how absolutely illogical it ended up being. With all the absolute jumps in logic and questionable character motivation it took to come up with that ending, I’m actually surprised that the rest of the film remained as consistent as it did.
Look at those saps. Even they can’t believe the bull-crap ending they got.
Beyond that, the film is actually pretty similar to it’s sequel. On a visual level, the film is pretty solid. All the scenes are shot fairly proficiently, with well laid-out composition, good lighting and engaging angles. Though the editing also remains just as choppy, often making it hard to distinguish between scenes that are supposed to be dreams or supposed to be real, further adding to the film’s level of confusion. And other than a couple of random moments of pastel coloring aside, the atmosphere remains fairly consistent, mainly sticking to the same bluish-gray filter throughout the film. And of course a creepy, dark-eyed ghost rears her un-dead head, this time sporting a demonically red dress and blood dripping from her eyes. The ghost in this earlier outing doesn’t “pose” nearly as much as the one in Marionette Teacher, but apparently they both have the same obsession with skateboarding, because this one slides around about 10-times more than her later counterpart ever did. Maybe because the ghost from Marionette Teacher was older she was just more afraid of falling and breaking a hip.
Alas, Haunted Dormitory: White Paper Girl ends up being much like the second film. There’s a bit more blood and a lot more screaming, but both films seem to be cut from a similar cloth and follow a very similar and predictable formula. The only real difference is the ghost is a little less cheesy and the plot is a little better paced and put together. Or at least it is right up until that stupid ending. But the biggest issue is undoubtedly going to be story comprehension, thanks to those abysmal subtitles. If those could be fixed, the movies could easily be bumped up to some kind of level of cheesy, stupid fun. But since they suck so hard, watching the films turns into an unnecessary hassle. Still, the film is nice to look at and has some fun imagery, so if you want a quick, easy ghost story to watch that you can make fun of a little, then give these films a try. Just be prepared to suffer a little for your entertainment.
Oh, and for those who are curious, unlike Marionette Teacher the subtitle to this film, White Paper Girl, actually fits into the narrative and makes sense. So at least in that regard, the film didn’t go out of it’s way to piss me off. I’ll count that as a small blessing.
Haunted Dormitory: White Paper Girl is available on a variety of streaming services. Like it’s sequel, you can even find it for free on YouTube. Both should be fairly simple to track down. But don’t expect the subtitles you find elsewhere to sport any kind of improvement.