Seen in Jeonju

Ghost (2010)

8th August 2010

img392It used to be that theaters in Korea would be teaming with films of ghosts and ghouls each summer. The belief was that being scared helps to keep you cool. This tradition has been slowly disappearing however and this summer there are only a handful of ghost stories. The spirits of the night seem to have been replaced by ‘blockbusters’ and childrens’ movies. Has the horror genre been bled dry?  Last year, the excellent film Possessed offered hope that the genre was still alive and well, but it has not been followed up with anything memorable. In the third week of August, Pyega (possibly to be entitled The Abandoned House) will open. It is one of the ’shaky cam’ style of horror films like The Blair Witch Project, [REC], Cloverfield, and Paranormal Activity. While I liked the first three on that list, I hated Paranormal Activity so I am not sure what I will think of Pyega. There seems to be more action that Korea’s other documentary style/handicam horror Mokdugi Video which I said at one point lacked the hysterics of the Blair Witch Project–Judging from the trailer, I think Pyega has put the hysterics back in…  However, there was another horror film this year simply entitled Ghost. And if I were to judge solely on this film, I would have to say that the genre is well and truely dead.  Simply put, Ghost is not a good movie.

Technically, Ghost is actually three movies linked together by a short intro and closing seen directed by Kimjo Kwang-soo.  A name I recognized, I was hoping that Kimjo Kwang-soo would bring something different to the omnibus. One of Korea’s few openly gay filmmakers, Kimjo has recently had some success with his movies Just Friends? and Boy Meets Boy as well as having experience working with horror films such as when he assisted with the 2005  film The Red Shoes. But his experience and unique viewpoint were wasted here. The sexually ambiguous fortune teller might have been interesting, but he is overshadowed by ridiculous special effects–floating tarot cards– that draw attention away from him (much like the singing Cupid did to the stars of Boy Meets Boy). It also did not seem to mesh with the other segments of Ghost despite the fact that Kimjo’s opening and closing are supposed to draw them together. The girls are remarkably nonplussed by the floating cards and magically appearing fortune teller whereas they will scream at the drop of the hat for the rest of the movie.

That last statement is not an exaggeration. The first story of the omnibus is chock full of false scares. The girls screech and squeal at falling hats, cats, brooms and plastic bags. Rustling paper, closing doors and playing the piano are enough to send them into flights of panic. This segment is called The Beckoning Hand and it was directed by Jo Eun-kyeong who directed a 15 minute short horror film called They Live By Night in 2007. Miss Jo seems to have crammed every horror convention she could think of into this movie, even when they made no sense. Why, for example, was the entire basement of the abandoned school building draped in plastic? The only answer I can think of is that it is spooky and makes it difficult to see what could be lurking in doorways. I think someone thought that it was also spooky to have the music and background sounds blaring over the dialogue. It was very hard to hear what the actress were saying most of the time. Director Jo tried hard to come up with a reason for her ghost to be on a vengeful killing spree–wiping out her former friends one by one. However, there is no logical reason for the ghosts actions-even considering that ghosts don’t have to be logical. She had no one to blame for her accidental death except herself ..and maybe the kitten. Actually, had she been haunting the kitten, it would have been more interesting.

The next story could have benefited from a haunted kitten as well. I Have a Soulmate is an ultimately forgettable tale by Hong Dong-myeong who, up until now has only directed short films. The film is filled with uninteresting, unlikable characters. Of the two heroines, I am not sure whom we are supposed to identify with. Is it the clingy, pregnant one who is amazingly cheerful considering she is a high school student who will have a baby in just a couple of months? She has managed to keep the fact a secret for the entire school term but seems to think that she can have the baby in an unused storeroom in the school that she and her friend have set up as a semi-apartment. She is not very bright.  Her ’friend’ gets more screen time so I think she is actually the main character. However, not only does she betray her best friend, she is also directly responsible for letting the father of her friend’s baby die. Yes, he was a terrible man. But, not deserving of death especially as he begged her to save him before he dies and she easily could have done so. She is just lucky that men in these movies do not usually come back as vengeful spirits.

Or do they? The last story has an interesting male ghost of a seriel killer hunting down the ghost of his last victim. Directed by Yeo Myeong-joon, this is the most interesting of the three tales of the omnibus. His is the only part of Ghost that I would watch again. After experiencing some terrifying (and, in comparison to the rest of the film, extremely interesting) phenomena on the subway, Cheol-min skiddishly walks to school. It doesn’t take long to realize that he is like the boy in Sixth Sense but older. I was fine with that until my thoughts made the connection with Ghost Whisperer..and my heart sank a little. But while the Ghost Whisperer parallel is undeniable, this part of the movie remained good–mostly because it did not take itself too seriously. It was fun to watch as the boy, the grandson of a shaman, as he tried to stop the ghost of a killer –and the teacher he possessed– with the help of a timid girl ghost and a classmate who can’t see what he is fighting. Director Yeo previously made the feature length film The Code of the Duel  in 2006 and the 40-minute featurette The Righteous Battle–both of which I am now interested in seeing.

However, it was not enough to save Ghost. Released in June 2010, Ghost is not yet on DVD. I do not know if or when it will get a release. I don’t care. I won’t be buying it. Really. ….. Unless it is really cheap.  Then I might buy it ..but I won’t watch it right away. This is not a film I recommend.

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