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Hello Ghost
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by Jay Seaver

"Say goodbye."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Hello Ghost" makes me feel a little better about Hollywood. Sure, one could take the pessimistic view and see it as a sign that America is exporting the worst aspects of its culture in such quantities that others are assimilating it, but I choose to believe that the impulse to make supernatural comedies with questionable concepts is universal, and that seeing South Korea screw one up indicates that for all the crap people give Hollywood, this sort of thing is harder than it looks.

Kang Sung-man (Cha Tae-hyun) has been suicidal for some time, but has never been able to pull it off. After overdosing on pills fails, he jumps off a bridge, and this time his heart actually stops He's revived at the hospital, though, and now in addition to everything else, he can see ghosts. Four of them - a round, blue-suited chain-smoker (Ko Chang-seok); a woman who cries constantly (Jang Young-nam); a bratty kid (Cheon Bo-geun); and a mildly lecherous old man (Lee Moon-su). He gets the standard spiel from a fortune teller about how they won't move on (and let him off himself) until they have completed some unfinished earthly business with his help. to make things even more awkward, these wishes tend to bring him in contact with - and embarrass him in front of - hospice nurse Jung Yeon-su (Kang Hye-won), who is certainly sweet and pretty enough to count as a reason to live.

Give writer/director Kim Young-tak some credit: For a broad comic fantasy, Hello Ghost is a lot more carefully structured than it initially appears to be. The complementary characteristics of Sung-man and Yeon-su are reasonably clever - both are surrounded by people just one on side or the other of death; he's a lonely orphan while her dying father is too much a presence in her life. And certain bits of the story tie together in fine fashion, although the connections are occasionally less elegant structuring than overbuilt plot devices.

The latter is just one indication of how sloppily this movie often seems to be put together. The rules by which the ghosts operate are incredibly arbitrary, for instance, with abilities so excessive that there are in-movie complaints about them not being utilized fully. There's a long set of scenes where Sung-man's seeing ghosts makes him look increasingly crazy to hospital administrators and psychiatrists, followed by him being released without explanation. The hospice setting is introduced with the sort of graceless transition that makes the audience wonder if the film's reels have been spliced together out of order. And then the end... Yikes! It's one thing to keep going after a satisfying stopping point, and something else entirely to get to the happy ending, follow it up with something horrifying, and then scampering to get the tone back to where it was before.

It doesn't help that most of the jokes are really not all that funny, but Cha Tae-hyun plays them as broadly as possible. Though one of Korea's biggest comedy stars (he broke through in My Sassy Girl and recently had a hit in Secret Scandal), he's awful here. Sometimes it's bad material - even when ghosts aren't involved, Kim Young-tak seems to have a hard time writing scenes that represent actual human behavior. More often, though, he seems ill at ease with having to vary his performance. When Sung-man is possessed by a ghost, Cha doesn't channel the other actor; more often than not, he stiffens, contorts his face, and talks in a funny voice that isn't very funny. The actors playing the ghosts spend most of the movie hitting single notes, although Ko Chang-seok and Jang Young-nam build something nice when they get a later chance to play against Cha one-on-one. Kang Hye-won is plenty likable as Yeon-su, but doesn't get much of a chance to play funny until very close to the end.

Supposedly, Chris Columbus has optioned the film for a Hollywood remake, and I can't say I find the idea terribly objectionable. While that hypothetical movie would likely strike people as remaking 1993's "Heart and Souls" (with Robert Downey Jr. and a killer cast of ghosts), this one has some good, unique ideas in it, but the execution as a romantic comedy could use a heck of a lot of refinement.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=22692&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/21/11 15:05:21
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

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Directed by
  Young-tak Kim

Written by
  Young-tak Kim

Cast
  Tae-hyun Cha
  Hye-won Kang
  Chang-suk Ko
  Mun-soo Lee
  Young-nam Jang



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