Saturday, September 24, 2011

Yeonghwa ’11: Hello Ghost

He wanted to become a ghost, but a failed suicide starts seeing them instead. Somewhat against his will, he becomes a good host, working diligently to grant their final wishes. While it starts out in a comedic vein (of both the broad and black varieties), as often happens in popular Korean films, heartstrings will be tugged hard in Kim Young-tak’s Hello Ghost (trailer here), which screens this afternoon during Yeonghwa: Korean Film Today, co-presented by MoMA and the Korea Society.

An orphan with no memory of his birth parents, Sang-man is ready to chuck it in, but he cannot get the job done. Waking up in the hospital, he quickly discovers he is the only one who can see the cherubic man chain smoking on his bed. It is the same for the bratty little boy, weeping woman, and crusty old man who start popping up unexpectedly. Little comes from his visit with the hospital’s shrink, but he certainly makes a strong impression on Jung Yun-soo, the cute nurse on-duty. Nevertheless, he will halting attempt to romance her as their paths continually cross. He will have the help of his spectral companions who promise to leave him be once he has helped them conclude their unfinished business.

It takes a long time for the ghosts’ backstories to be revealed, but when they are, it is waterworks time. You might kick yourself if you did not see the gist of it coming, but it all makes perfect sense in the way the film is presented. Indeed, despite a fair amount of physical possession gags a la Steve Martin in All of Me, Hello is much more in the tradition of Il Mare, the Korean tearjerker that Hollywood remade as The Lake House (copping out on the tragic ending). As it happens, an American remake of Hello is in development with Chris Columbus set to direct. However, those who want to see the concept while it is still original, mostly likely with less treacle and more angst, should catch Kim’s first take at MoMA.

As Sang-man, Cha Tae-hyun is not afraid to put the big “L” in loser. He also sells the big climax quite effectively. A luminous screen presence, Kang Hye-won is undeniably endearing as Jung. Yet, it is Jang Young-nam and Ko Chang-suk who really lower the emotional boom as the crying and smoking ghosts, respectively.

Frankly, American filmmakers (both studio and indie) have a hard time with honest sentiment. In contrast, the Korea film industry does not. Indeed, this is the sort of movie they do really well. Though nakedly manipulative, Hello pays off just the same. Recommended to those looking for a respite from irony, Hello screens again this afternoon (9/24) as Yeonghwa continues at MoMA.