Kev reviews Optimum Releasing‘s The Ghost: a South Korean drama thriller, with a few bits that’s seen it masquerade as a horror for the last couple of years.
Ji-won (Kim Ha-neul) is a sociology student at Sung-rim who has been planning to study abroad in order to start her life anew. This decision is brought on by a losing battle to recall her memories prior to an accident that she was involved in, but when she begins to have unusual visions and learns that three of her former friends have died through drowning she begins to wonder how these events are linked. With the help of her friend Jun-ho (Jin Ryu) and a couple of old acquaintances she slowly begins to piece together fragments of her past…
It’s best to point out first of all that The Ghost isn’t strictly a horror film, despite a marketing campaign that would suggest otherwise. Working best as a mystery thriller with far greater emphasis on its characters than spatters of gore, a la Memento Mori, the film foregoes huge shock tactics in favour of providing something a little more meaningful. With that said The Ghost still has an obligation to provide one or two scares and it attempts to do so by using an image that we’ve been all too accustomed to for the last six years. By drudging up the now classic ghost in white with long, black hair, along with a keen use of h20, it immediately invokes memories of Hideo Nakata’s Ring and Dark Water, as well as any number of copycats to have emerged since. Due to the fact that we’ve had these kinds of images rammed into our faces several times before this does not make things any scarier. While the scenes are competently filmed, particularly a great climactic moment that just echoes Ring, there’s just not enough originality past close ups of eyes that shift oddly and hair that obscures faces. Tae-kyeong does try to build up tension from the opening scene which involves a séance, but by the time we familiarise ourselves with the film’s surrounding we’re left with little more than long corridor shots, large darkened living rooms, violin cues, excessive shaky cams, characters turning around slowly and a few off screen deaths that pay off with scene shifts to victim’s startled faces. Still, I gotta hand it to the director and give him some some points for originality when it comes to what just might be the first ever water vomiting scene in film history.
Ordinarily this might be a terrible thing, yet director Kim Tae-kyeong – in his debut – manages to take these familiar devices and actually work them toward a satisfying conclusion, so that by the end of the film their presence makes as equal an amount of sense as those seen in the already mentioned films; The Ghost uses its darker moments to complement the overall story rather than just for the sake of it. This brings us to where the film ultimately succeeds, as a psychological tale in which ambiguity works in its favour. Ji-won is a character that has to struggle with disassociative amnesia, and as she aimlessly pieces together her memories we too are left in the lurch as we try to solve the case; it’s a nice twist which opens up further possibilities that might have otherwise not been explored, in turn placing a unique spin on the genre that usually thrillers such as Memento get to keep to themselves. At this point it’s difficult to talk about much without giving away spoilers, but I will say that the characters and motivations here are well drawn. In fact Ji-won’s personality is one of the film’s more interesting aspects, for reasons we find out nearer its conclusion. When we get the first proper insight into her character it leaves the viewer with a feeling of dejection, that has them questioning whether or not they should be liking her; it almost earns the feature bad points because there’s an uneven air about things, but then the more we learn the more it all comes together; a manipulative element that succeeds in turning the viewer’s preconceptions against them. As for that final twist, it just works. I didn’t expect anything to but it just goes to show that there’s still room for surprise, even with a genre that’s been tired for a long time. Like the Yeogo Goedam series we have similar situations that look at characters and friendships a little more deeply than most conventional horrors do, and in this case it is all the more tragic for it.
Optimum issues an anamorphic 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Unfortunately we have another standards conversion (NTSC-PAL) job and as such combing and ghosting is visible throughout. Otherwise we have a nice looking transfer here. Colours are pleasing despite the film’s deliberately drab look that uses green tints for interiors and greyish tones for outdoor shots. There does appear to be a little contrast boosting though, with slight loss of shadow detail. I detect very high Edge Enhancement, which is only noticeable on close inspection, so not too much of a problem otherwise.
Korean Stereo 2.0 and Korean DD5.1 Surround are available here. The 5.1 track is remarkably solid, bringing a far better experience to the overall film. Horror works infinitely better when it has the right sound components and clearly Tae-kyeong took a leaf out of Nakata’s book on how to use sound as a major companion piece. The soundstage here is very impressive, with some great examples of directional use and subtle effects that help to raise fairly standard scenes to higher levels. Dialogue is free from problems, so it’s all good really.
Optional English subtitles are included and there are no errors to report.
Kim Ha-neul is asked to explain the film, her character, why she chose to star in a horror and what were the most difficult aspects of filming. She’s excited and obviously bigs up the film, calling it the scariest of the year. Ryu Jin sums up the film a little better and talks about working with Ha-neul, but like the before it’s all too brief to get much out of it.
Making of (2.12)
This is officially the worst making of feature ever. Playing out as a montage of clips with very short interspersing comments from Kim Ha-neul complaining a lot, there is absolutely nothing to learn and nothing to see due to its rapid nature.
A three and a half minute music video, a theatrical trailer and three TV spots make up the rest of the features, and as usual contain a few spoilery bits while going for the all out horror angle. Finally there are Optimum Asia trailers for Azumi, Azumi 2, Arahan, Fighter in the Wind, The Doll Master and Sky High.
The Ghost’s undoing may be down to how it’s marketed itself as a frightful horror, presumably in order to sell, as otherwise I imagine trying to promote a supernatural drama/thriller would have been a little more difficult. Ignore the posters and DVD cover that shows four creepy looking young woman with running mascara because I’ll tell you right now – you won’t see them. If you concede to the fact that what horror lies within is lifted from more than a few successful feature films and treat this as a tragic tale with ties to the thriller genre then you just may find something to enjoy. The Ghost is a bit of a slow mover but the pay off is effectively handled.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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