It’s uncanny how much Korean director Je-gyu Kang’s career has paralleled that of American director Michael Bay, for better or worst. Kang’s first movie, “Gingko Bed”, is Michael Bay’s “Bad Boys”. It’s dumb, lacks common sense, and is absurd to the nth degree. Kang’s second movie “Shiri” is louder, has a lot more style, but is still relatively simplistic — much like Bay’s second outing, “The Rock”. Not coincidentally, Kang claims to have derived inspiration for “Shiri” from Bay’s second directorial effort, and it shows.
Upon its release, “Gingko Bed” was heralded as a new step in international prestige for South Korean films. The film was a big hit in its native land, most likely because it’s a relatively big budget movie (by South Korea circa 1996 standards) and the screenplay is cheesy enough, manipulative enough, and dumbed down enough that even the most intellectually challenged moviegoer could “get” it without having to work too hard. If you think the movie is too “confusing”, as I’ve heard some reviewers call it, you need to try harder. This is by-the-numbers plotting and it doesn’t get any lazier than this.
IThe film stars Suk-kyu Han (“Christmas in August”) as Su-hyun, a art professor who stumbles onto an old bed carved out of a gingko tree in what looks like an alley flea market (?). No sooner does Su-hyun take the bed home does a large man clad in black leather breaks into his studio apartment, apparently drawn to the bed. Before said large man can break the wimpy Su-hyun into two pieces without breaking a sweat, the mysterious and beautiful Princess Midan (Hee-kyung Jin) appears and whisks Su-hyun away to safety. Oh, and after a rather cruel usage of one of her patients by Midan, Su-hyun’s work-obsessed doctor girlfriend starts to take a lot of valuable time to indulge in silly “doctor banter”.
It seems that both Midan and General Hwang (Hyun-joon Shin, “Soul Guardians”), the large fellow, are spirits trapped on Earth and doomed to repeat their little love-death drama over and over again. The third party in this macabre love triangle is Su-hyun, who has been re-born after being killed by Hwang in a previous life. But Midan and Hwang hasn’t been so lucky, and are forced to take on the lifeforces of living people in order to take corporeal form, which they need to communicate with the living. Although this doesn’t quite explain how Hwang manages to stick his hand into a guy’s chest and pull out his heart, thus taking over the man’s lifeforce in the first place, but that’s neither here nor there.
ITaking its cue mostly from “Ghost”, the movie starring Patrick Swayze as a dead guy who refuses to leave his beloved girlfriend, “Gingko Bed” establishes and breaks its own rules as the need arises. For instance, despite the fact that both Hwang and Midan are supposed to be spirits with no physicality (people just walk right through them), apparently gravity still matters because they can still run up and down stairs and walk across solid ground. Also, even though Hwang has gained physical form, he can still do groovy things like walk through solid wall and apparently also levitate up and down because at one point he appears on the roof of Su-hyun’s studio by phasing through the solid foundation.
But forgive me. I’m trying to make sense of a movie based on fantasy. The whole notion behind “Gingko Bed” is silly enough that writer/director Je-gyu Kang doesn’t need me to point out every little nonsensical thing about his screenplay. (Even though there are a lot of nonsensical things about his screenplay, natch.) I mean, if I were to even mention that after getting his head chopped off by Hwang, Su-hyun and his beloved Midan are reincarnated as gingko trees… Well, I guess I won’t.
IEven for 1996 standards, the special effects in “Gingko Bed” are quite (as the kids like to say) lame. We get a lot of morphing scenes and people (mostly Hwang) phasing through solid walls and whatnot. There’s even a fake hawk flying through a matte painting of the countryside at one point. The acting by all involve is atrocious, and even the usually reliable Suk-kyu Han looks unbelievably dense as he races to and fro, sweating profusely the whole time, and showing as much intelligence as that hard block that is the gingko bed. And the chemistry between the characters? Laughable at best; terribly uninspired and inept at worst.
There’s a lot of hackneyed melodrama in “Gingko Bed” that will no doubt appeal to a lot of people. The movie goes out of its way to provide us with “uplifting” music at all the appropriate moments (mostly during the unconvincing romantic scenes), although I’m still not entirely sure why the lovely Princess Midan shows up wearing a nice white gown ensemble and General Hwang looks like a rejected extra from “The Road Warrior”. And man, General Hwang didn’t cheap out on the eye mascara. Way to be tough and feminine at the same time, General.
If you absolutely must see a movie about a gingko tree (hey, who wouldn’t?), the questionable sequel, “Legend of Gingko”, is actually a much better film.
Je-gyu Kang (director) / Je-gyu Kang (screenplay)
CAST: Suk-kyu Han …. Su-hyun
Hee-kyung Jin …. Princess Midan
Hye-jin Shim …. Sun-young
Hyun-joon Shin …. General Hwang