Actor Cha Tae Hyun certainly has the golden touch, having starred in both “My Sassy Girl” and “Scandal Makers”, two of the biggest box office hits in modern Korean cinema. Here, he weaves his magic again with “Hello Ghost”, a big hearted comedy revolving around a suicidal man who gains the ability to see spirits, which proved to be yet another commercial and critical smash for the star. With actress Kang Hye Won (“Harmony”) as chief love interest, the film marks the directorial debut of Kim Young Tak, who previously served as screenwriter on the 2008 romantic comedy “Ba:Bo”, which also happened to feature Cha Tae Hyun.
The plot sees Cha as a depressed young man called Sang Man, and begins with him trying to commit suicide in a variety of ways before finally throwing himself off a bridge. Waking up in the hospital, he discovers that he now has the ability to see ghosts, in particular a group of four who start following him everywhere he goes, including a saucy old man (Lee Moon Su), a miserable woman (Jang Young Nam, Harmony), a strange middle aged man (Ko Chang Suk), and a young schoolboy (Cheon Bo Keun). After the troublesome spirits make it clear that they aren’t going anywhere, Cha eventually agrees to help them with their unfinished earthly business, while at the same time trying to romance cute nurse Yun Soo (Kang Hye Won).
Characters having near death experiences and gaining the power to see spirits is a common theme in Asian ghost cinema, in particular from Hong Kong, though “Hello Ghost” is one of the few Korean stabs at the sub genre. The film is unsurprisingly a fairly light hearted affair and aims for laughs mixed with melodrama in a popcorn blockbuster sort of way, and though never particularly original, director Kim certainly knows his audience. Cha’s attempts to fulfil the final wishes of the four ghosts makes the film feel a little like short episodes linked by him and his falling for nurse Yun Soo, and though a bit scattershot, this helps to add a little variation and to keep things interesting. None of his tasks are terribly challenging, with the wishes themselves being a touch mundane, though all eventually relate to life lessons, with the ghosts helping him as much as he helps them. Through this, family emerges a key theme, and things do get pretty melodramatic, though it’s hard to hold this against the film as it wears its heart on its sleeve, and as anyone surprised or disappointed to hear that it tugs shamelessly at the heart strings probably isn’t really the target audience anyway.
Despite being generally breezy, the film does have a somewhat morbid feel at the same time, dealing with life and death in a surprisingly even handed manner. A large amount of the film takes place in the hospital, with various characters dying throughout, and with Yun Soo’s father suffering from a terminal illness. Sang Man himself is a bit of a grim figure, given his early suicide attempts and the fact that he basically wants to get the ghosts out of his life so that he can get on with the business of killing himself. Although Kim doesn’t specifically explore these issues and while they do at times undermine the film’s sense of humour, on the other hand they add a welcome hint of depth and help to offset some of the more excessive melodrama.
Of course, the ghosts are for the most part played for laughs, literally clinging to Sang Man, heaped up on his back or grabbing onto his limbs as he walks, and having a weird tendency to inflate their heads. Frequently acting strangely, they cause all manner of mischief in his life, making him behave oddly, say inappropriate things and eat, drink and smoke far too much. Making matters worse is the fact that he never seems to learn the lesson that no-one else can see the ghosts, and there are a number of wacky set pieces based around people thinking he is talking to himself. The film gets a good amount of comic mileage out of all this and is often very funny, mixing some creative slapstick with an amusing and knowing use of the ghosts’ supernatural powers. Cha Tae Hyun is on good form and effectively carries the film, making for a likeable protagonist despite his rather grim suicide plan, and provides the funniest moments when doing bizarre impressions of the ghosts as they take over his body at inopportune times.
As a result, though pretty inconsequential, “Hello Ghost” makes for very enjoyable popcorn viewing and a film which has good all-round appeal. Amiable and playful and with a few inoffensive tugs at the heartstrings, it’s another solid commercial outing for Cha Tae Hyun, which again shows why he is one of Korea’s most popular and likeable actors.
Young-Tak Kim (director) / Young-Tak Kim (screenplay)
CAST: Tae-hyun Cha … Sang-Man
Kang Hye-Won … Jung Yun-Soo
Gyu-su Jeong … Jeong Joo-hwan
Jin-seong Kim … Jeong-won