There’s a lot of buzz around Hello Ghost at the festival and my ticket for this showing is part of my first batch, as I’m eager to watch this film. Some have compared it to My Sassy Girl (Jae-young Kwak, 2001), one of the early films people associate with the Korean Film Wave of the last decade, and, having seen My Sassy Girl, Hello Ghost’s comical structure can be put into a certain context. In the movie, Sang-man, a young suicidal man, is haunted by four ghosts after a failed attempt to end his life. Comedy ensues as the ghosts take control of his body to resolve lingering issues with their past lives.
Hello Ghost is hands-down the best film I’ve seen in 2011. I’ve mentioned several times on this blog the soft spot I hold for comedy but also how hard that art form is to pull off. Not only is comedy topical, cultural and nebulous in nature and cause, it is relatively difficult to achieve and also to effectively criticize. A great example of comedy’s ambiguous nature is the art of comedians like Sam Kinison and Andy Kaufman — and if you haven’t seen Milos Forman’s impressive biopic on the late Kaufman Man on the Moon (1999), you should allow yourself this pleasure — whose uncommon styles greatly appeal to some select sensibilities while avoiding others completely. Hello Ghost isn’t that, successfully utilizing a broader base of appealing comedic techniques, engrossingly crafting new visual gags and convoluted situations. It is a comic gem, polished by the great comedic talent of actor Tae-hyun Cha and Chang-seok Ko and in the beautiful light-blue palette of cinematographer Sang-muk Choi.
The most impressive thing about Hello Ghost is its surprise ending, in the way it forces a clash of contrasting emotions in its spectator, switching from light comedy to tear-jerking (melo)drama. In a flash, the whole audience of Concordia’s Hall Theater moves from uncontrolled laughter to free-flowing tears (and I’m myself taken aback by the jarring change in the mood of the film), as the subject matter becomes more poignant. It’s an artifice that was successfully used in My Sassy Girl, but the contrast here, more pronounced between genres, magnifies the quality and relevance of the film.
Hello Ghost embodies what a movie is supposed to be like, or maybe how Stanley Kubrick envisioned the medium, conveying the visceral and whimsical nature of emotions and dreams.