For some reason, many American filmgoers think that Hollywood product is unoriginal and saccharine, while foreign films are intellectual and far superior. (I blame snobby critics for this.) Sure, there are plenty of foreign films which are very poignant, artsy, and have a more serious tone than American films. But, there are also foreign films which are just as derivative as anything made in Tinseltown. The Korean film The Ghost is a good example of this, as even the bland title tells us to not expect anything overly unique.
The Ghost centers on Min Ji-won (Ha-Neul Kim), a young college student who enjoys swimming and spending time with her friend, Park Jun-ho (Jin Ryu). But, Min's life isn't as care-free as it seems. She was involved in an accident and suffers from amnesia. She can't remember what her life was like before the accident and doesn't recognize her mother or any of her friends. Because of this, she plans to continue her studies abroad and start her life over again.
But, before she can do that, members of her former clique begin to die mysteriously. This triggers fragments of memories and haunting nightmares for Min. She slowly begins to suspect that the accident which triggered her memory loss involved something dire and that someone or something has come for revenge.
This is pure conjecture, but I can only imagine that I Know What You Did Last Summer was a huge hit in South Korea, because it appears that many horror films from that country copy its formula. (The first South Korean horror film that I remember seeing, Nightmare AKA Gawi, was a complete rip-off of I Know What You Did Last Summer.) With The Ghost, we get a film which brings in the I Know What You Did Last Summer vibe and adds the familiar supernatural elements from The Ring and Ju-on. But, we also get a nice dash of Mean Girls and something like Memento. (And, I kept thinking of Prom Night while watching it as well.) The result is a film which goes beyond feeling familiar to be simply derivative.
Presumably to help soften that blow, writer/director Tae-kyong Kim has given the narrative structure a deliberate staging. The story unfolds slowly, and we are presented with what is a mystery which we are seeing through Min's eyes. At the outset, she doesn't remember anything and we don't know anything. As the story progresses, we get more and more clues as to what is happening around Min and why her old friends are dying.
This approach has its pros and cons. The movie opens with Min's friends playing with a ouija like board, which is followed by a scene in which one of them is killed by the kitchen sink (I think). From there, the place slows considerably and we get no supernatural elements from about 30 minutes. The second and third acts show an increase in the film's pacing and the unfolding of the story helps keep things moving along. But, then, we get to the finale, which introduces a twist ending that is incredibly hard to follow and feels as if it was taken from another film entirely. Thus, The Ghost is an uneven film at best. The ending will confuse most viewers and we never know for sure if the seance at the film's outset truly caused the events which transpire in the movie. For those of you who are tired of the "long-haired female ghost" genre of Asian horror films, The Ghost will be just another copycat entry into that long line of movies.
The Ghost haunts DVD courtesy of Tartan Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks fairly good, as it sharp and clear. The picture shows only trace elements of grain, but there are minor defects from the source material visible throughout the movie. Most of these are very small white or black dots, but from time-to-time, they are quite prominent. Artifacting is kept to a minimum, and the colors here look very good. The brightness of the image is well-balanced and the darker scenes never obscure the action.
This DVD carries the original Korean soundtrack in both a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a DTS 5.1 track. Both tracks provide clear dialogue and sound effects. Stereo effects are prominent here, as are bass effects during the now familiar "boom" which occurs when the ghost appears. The surround effects were somewhat subtle for my taste, but they were present and certainly added to the shock scenes.
The Ghost DVD contains a few extras. "Cast Interviews" (6 minutes) has comments from Ha-Neul Kim (who claims that "Horror is a good genre for subtle acting." What?!) and Ryu Jin, where they both talk about working on the film. "Behind the Scenes" is essentially a 2-minute montage of on-set footage. The extras are rounded out by 3 very similar TV SPOTS and the ORIGINAL TRAILER for The Ghost.
I always hope for the best, but from the moment that a thatch of black hair appeared on-screen, I knew that The Ghost was yet another take on The Ring/Ju-on territory. The fact that the main character has amnesia and doesn't know why she's being haunted is the only original idea here. One of the deaths (which takes place in a hospital) is very well-done and the whole affair is slick and professional looking, but it's also a big wad of "seen it all before".