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Attempting to inject a little originality into the horror genre is a laudable endeavour indeed, and something which has characterised the career to date of Korean director Shin Jung Won, who previously gave fans the ghosts and gangsters comedy “To Catch a Virgin Ghost”, and the equally leftfield “Chaw”, which was basically “Jaws” with a giant killer pig. For his latest outing “Ghost Sweepers” he returns to supernatural hijinks, following an oddball group of shamans as they take on an angry ghost and uncover dark secrets on a remote haunted fishing island.
The film opens with shamans from across Korea gathering to try and exorcise the evil spirits which have been plaguing the village of Uljin. Sadly, the exorcism proves more difficult than expected, and when their best efforts come to nothing, the majority flee the island and head home. Deciding to stay behind for various reasons are an ill-matched bunch of five eccentrics, including famed television shaman Teacher Park (top Korean comedian Kim Su Ro, “Vampire Cop Ricky”), monk Shim In (Kwak Do Won, “A Company Man”), a young exorcist called Suk Hyun (Lee Je Hoon, “Architecture 101”) who uses electronics and engineering, tarot card wielding astrologer Seung Hee (Kim Yoon Hye, “Alice”) and Wol Gwang (Yang Kyung Mo), a morbid looking young boy who can see the near future. Joining them in their creepy quest is Chan Young (Kang Ye Won, “Quick”), an unfortunate reporter dumped there by her boss to cover the story, who soon finds herself risking her life along with the shamans as things turn dangerous and skeletons come tumbling out of closets.
As with “To Catch a Virgin Ghost”, the real strength of “Ghost Sweepers” is director Shin Jung Won’s highly creative approach, throwing in all manner of unpredictable wackiness and giving the film an old school 1980s Hong Kong spooky feel. There’s certainly little of the melodrama which tends to creep into Korean genre efforts, Shin sticking firmly to action, frights and gags, and the film is fast moving and manic as a result. This counts for a lot, and though the pacing and tone are a little off at times, the film is energetic and filled with delightful moments of strangeness that keep the viewer entertained throughout. Though the plot itself may sound fairly straightforward, it goes off on several enjoyable tangents and subplots, with a good few twists along the way, and whilst there’s nothing too earth-shattering or ambitious on show, Shin does a fine job of delivering something that feels fresh and fun.
The film works mainly as an ensemble piece, the script making the most of the various relationships and links between the cast, and though it’d probably be going too far to accuse it of substantial character development, they’re all a likeable and interesting bunch. It certainly helps that the cast are all on good form and seem to have been having fun, Kim Su Ro unsurprisingly dominating and throwing in a fine comedic turn and Kang Ye Won doing a decent and charismatic job in what could have been a fairly thankless straight role.
Another reason why the film succeeds is through a solid balance of laughs and scares, a notoriously difficult act to pull off which has sunk many a horror comedy in the past. While the focus is mainly on the gags, Shin never neglects the film’s more serious supernatural elements, and shows a fine command and knowledge of the genre, with some atmospheric and reasonably sinister scenes sprinkled throughout, as well as some surprising deaths and mild splatterings of blood. As a result, though it’s hard to imagine anyone actually being frightened by the film, this does make things feel less as if the horror was included merely as a gimmick, and the jokes themselves are all the funnier for playing off against the macabre.
All of this combines to make “Ghost Sweepers” a very satisfying watch, and Shin Jung Won’s best and most accomplished film to date. An excellent, not to mention rare example of horror and comedy truly gelling, it’s an amusing, well-judged film that should go down well with fans of the form or of the highly entertaining cast.
Jeong-won Shin (director) / Kwon Seong-hwi (screenplay)
CAST: Ye-won Kang … Chan-young
Yang Kyeong-mo … Wol-gwang
Je-hoon Lee … Suk-hyun
Jeremy Lowe … Father Bob
Kim Soo-ro … Teacher Park
Woori … Seung-hee