You want scary? You should see what Judge Joel Pearce has to review next week.
Don't remember…Take it to your grave.
Hollywood punctuates the summer with big, bold blockbusters. All of them have major names, all of them are easy to digest. Few of them are rated higher than PG-13, because the summer months are an opportunity to lure in the elusive teenagers (this year, even the Die Hard movie was rated PG-13). All of the studios use the summer to snap up the hundreds of millions of dollars that teenagers have to spend.
South Korea has a similar approach, but the biggest draw isn't action and comedy. Teen horror is the bread and butter of the South Korean film industry, which is why so many of the films we get from them fit into this genre. It also explains why so many of them are virtually indistinguishable. The Ghost begins in an almost playful way, looking to parody the most favorite of Korean genres. Unfortunately, it's not long before it devolves into a muddled mess, another victim of the studio's fear of deviating from formula.
Facts of the Case
Ji-won (Ha-neul Kim, Ditto) is a successful college student, but something's missing from her life. Namely, she's missing all of her memories from before a year ago. She has been searching her mind to find out who she was and what caused this amnesia, but soon discovers that she'd just as soon not find out.
You see, her old friends have been dying through mysterious circumstances. She has been seeing a ghost as well, and now she needs to recover her memories to figure out why a ghost is mad at her, and what she can do to stop it.
Ahhh, amnesia. The international sign that a scriptwriter is out of ideas. For an intelligent audience, though, there are few plot devices more pathetic than the use of an amnesiac main character. There are better ways to hide the past from us, better ways to gradually hand out important information. The Ghost, however, dives right in with the whole amnesia device, and it threatens to unhinge the whole film. It's hard to really connect to Ji-won, since she doesn't know who she is. This could be an advantage for the filmmakers, especially as we start to discover some of the horrible things in her past, but it's ultimately just used to protect us from the fact that Ji-won was a bitch, and we wouldn't like her if we knew that at the beginning.
In fact, you could almost describe The Ghost as Mean Girls with a ghost. We learn that Ji-won and her popular little friends had been a nasty clique in high school, and something that they did to someone is coming back to haunt them. I won't spoil it for you, except to promise that you will guess the dark secret long before Ji-won does. Whatever impacts her memory must have also damaged her common sense as well.
Like several of the Asian horror movies I've reviewed lately, this would be a lot more interesting with the ghost parts removed. They are creepy enough to make high school girls grip onto each other and squeal with fright, I suppose, but more refined viewers already have these images and timings memorized. I found myself more interested in the drama between the friends, which didn't have enough screen time to be properly developed. Instead, we just get a lot of shots of Ji-won and the other girls, stupidly alone and in the dark, screaming at shadows.
I was ready to forgive The Ghost for all these minor flaws, however, since the majority of the film is so unpretentious. The producers seem to be winking at us, admitting that they have come up with nothing new and that it doesn't matter. It's enough that they have pieced together a mildly interesting story full of pretty young Korean girls, some creepy cinematography, and a few competent shocks. The ending, though, destroys all that. This sucker has more false endings than The Return of the King, and each one is more confusing than the last. The final one is so ridiculous, so out of line with the rest of the film, that it annihilates any of the dramatic buildup from the rest of the film. I'm sure it was designed to provoke questions and conversation, but all it got from me and my wife were a look of bewilderment and more than a little eye rolling. The ending also destroyed any sympathy I had for the film.
Tartan manages to put in a pretty good effort this time around. The video transfer, as usual, isn't progressively flagged, but it looks great on a standard television. The shadows are deep and black, contrast is good, and colors are excellent. The transfer flaw is in the sound this time around, as both the Dolby 5.1 and DTS tracks spread the dialogue across the front three channels, and not much happens in the surrounds. The LFE channel is highly active, though. For most viewers, I would recommend the Dolby Surround track, although you lose some of the power at the bottom end. There are a few extras, including some horribly shallow interviews with the lead actresses. They seem more confused about the ending than I am. There's also a production featurette, which delivers the usual marketing enthusiasm.
Halfway through The Ghost, I had part of a positive review written in my head. It's fun, unpretentious, illogical nonsense, but it all comes crashing down under its own weight in the second half. Combined with a really ridiculous ending, it's a film that I simply can't recommend highly. Unless you're a die-hard Asian teen horror fan, you can give this one a pass.
Everyone involved is guilty, and I think I'm just going to let them drown.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
• Production Featurette
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