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Ghost House (2005)
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by Jay Seaver

"A fun little ghost comedy."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: It's easy to bemoan the Hollywood machine when confronted with the foreign and independent films which play boutique houses and festivals. While the multiplex fills with mediocrity piled upon junk, everything we see coming from France, say, or Korea seems to be exciting, daring, or exceptional. Of course, it's a biased sample, and we're generally only getting the most popular and/or lauded works from other countries' national cinemas; for every masterpiece like "Memories of Murder" in a Seoul multiplex, there's probably two or three movies like "Ghost House" - entertaining enough screen and time fillers, but well short of greatness or putting Hollywood to shame.

The story opens with Park Pil-gi (Cha Seung-won) buying his first home. It's beautiful and has a great ocean view, so if a construction worker like Pil-gi can afford it, there's got to be something wrong with it, right? But Pil-gi isn't thinking of that; he's just remembering how much he and his father (Yun Moo-sik) moved around when he was a child, mostly because of the elder Park's tendency to get in fights. Owning his own home was a promise Pil-gi made to his dying father, though, and there are tears in his eyes when he hangs his nameplate by the door. The catch, of course, is that he's not alone in the house, even when his girlfriend Soo-kyung (Son Tae-yeong) isn't around - he's got a poltergeist, and it wants him out.

The movie divides rather cleanly into two distinct halves. The first half is almost pure slapstick, with a lot of time spent alone in the house with just Pil-gi and his invisible tormentor. Think Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead 2 or Army of Darkness here; lots of screaming as various inanimate objects attack him. Despite a few knives being thrown around, this spook mostly wants to scare Pil-gi off, doing weird but mostly harmless things, like causing him to get into a fight with his couch. It's amusing stuff, with the physical comedy enhanced by big, good-looking Cha Seung-won not being afraid to blubber like an infant. Some of the hauntings are just outright peculiar, too, including the one that directly leads to the second half of the movie - a swarm of chickens chases Pil-gi to the roof, where he's struck by lightning.

The second half is less slapstick-y, as either the lightning strike or the baseball he takes to the head immediately after his doctor tells Soo-kyung that it may take weeks for Pil-gi to remember anything leaves him able to see ghosts, and the movie gets into Topper territory. His ghost turns out to be pretty Yeon-hwa (Jang Seo-hee), who is initially more freaked out about being seen than Pil-gi is about seeing her. The second half of the movie is somewhat more serious, although Yeon-hwa's attempts to haunt someone who simply does not fear her anymore frequently amuse, as does Pil-gi's growing tendency to take the ghosts he sees in stride. The thing is, for the movie to have an ending, it's got to have a little more plot than "man and ghost each claim ownership of house". So, there's a man who wants to knock the house over to build a hotel, to which Pil-gi is now less amenable. We find out how Yeon-hwa died, and what's keeping her anchored to the house - she's a "Lingering Ghost", as opposed to a a "Roaming Ghost" - and what would set her free.

Why she'd want to be set free is an open question; she can do some pretty neat stuff within the confines of the house, the local ghosts seem to have a nice little community going, and there doesn't seem to be any guarantee of an after-life - or in her case, an after-after-life. But I guess that's part of the ghost story deal - they don't stand the application of logic very well at all. Fortunately, the story isn't as aggressively stupid as, say, Casper; instead, writers Jang Hang-jun and Jan Jae-yeong give Pil-gi the sort of mentor who tells him (and the audience) what he needs to know and then at least acts like the rest makes sense with a little experience under one's belt. It pre-empts a lot of "but, hey, earlier..."

The mostly light-hearted tone was a bit of a surprise to me; director Kim Sang-jin was responsible for the flashback opening of Another Public Enemy, and I had sort of assumed that Kang Woo-suk had chosen him for that job because he specialized in that sort of thing. He does get to do a couple biggish action scenes toward the end, but he's not martiaiing a lot of personnel or working with young actors here. He does do a good job with flashbacks, compacting Pil-gi's and Yeon-hwa's stories into single, well-edited sequences, as opposed to revealing information piecemeal. He also puts together a nifty montage of Pil-gi dealing with a bunch of exorcists, using moving split-screens to divide the image in an interesting way, making the viewer's eye jump around. He's also smooth with the special effects: Though a lot of them are rather common, they're well-executed and not overly showy.

"Ghost House" is fun, in a low-key way. The jokes may not elicit the guffaw, but they are are consistent giggle-producers, and the acting is good enough to deliver some fondness for the characters.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12522&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/20/05 09:29:53
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2005 Fantasia Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/04/08 Shaun Wallner Interesting Movie! 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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