Director: Jo Won-hee
Cast: Don Lee, Kim Young-kwang, Lee Yoo-young, Choi Gwi-hwa, Joo Jin-mo
Runtime: 1 hr 38 mins
Released By: Clover Films and Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 15 November 2018
Synopsis: Devoted father Jang-su (Don LEE) is very good at minding his own business and only cares about his young daughter who has been on a heart transplant list for over 4 years. Tae-jin (KIM Young-kwang) is a rookie policeman who goes out of his way to help the citizens and even tracks down suspicious criminal activities on his free time. When he falls into coma while chasing down a lead, he appears before Jang-su as a ghost. Tae-jin has no choice but to ask Jang-su for help since he’s the only one who can see him. To Tae-jin’s dismay, Jang-su won’t do anything to help even if it’s to save Tae-jin’s fiancée from danger…
Ma Dong-seok is probably one of the most hardworking actors in Korean cinema of late, with no less than five films slated to be released this year alone. ‘Wonderful Ghost’ – otherwise known as ‘The Soul Mate’ – is his third, and if you’ve seen his earlier ‘Champion’, you’ll probably be able to guess just what type of character he is playing here. Like that movie, this one is intended as family-friendly comedy, so it’s no surprise that Ma’s judo-gym instructor Jang-su here is really a tough-looking guy with a heart of gold. Oh yes, don’t let the fact that he doesn’t lend a helping hand to an old woman harassed by a young gangster punk early on in the movie fool you, Jang-su is ultimately kind-hearted and caring, though scarred by a tragic incident which ended up claiming the life of someone he loved.
Jo Won-hee’s film pairs Ma with rising TV-turned-film star Kim Young-hwang, who plays the earnest and righteous junior police officer Tae-jin that stumbles upon a crime ring smuggling women to work as prostitutes at a local nightclub. Tae-jin’s strong sense of justice means he feels compelled to investigate on his own, but upon gathering videographic evidence of the crime, he is unfortunately betrayed by his police senior Jong-sik (Choi Gwi-hwa). Turns out that both Jong-sik (Choi Gwi-hwa) and Tae-jin’s superior Yang (Joo Jin-mo) are complicit in the illegal enterprise, and the latter especially will do whatever it takes to keep the lucrative operation running. An ambush at an underground carpark lands Tae-jin in a coma, and shifts the attention of the baddies to his fiancée Hyun-ji (Lee Yoo-young), whom they suspect may be in possession of the evidence he once held.
Jang-su and Tae-jin’s fates become intertwined after the former follows the latter down the carpark, and is also knocked unconscious during the melee. Jang-su is lucky enough not to fall comatose, though the very supernatural twist of the film’s premise has him saddled with the misfortune of being the only one who can see Tae-jin’s spirit roaming out of its human body. Tae-jin seeks Jang-su’s help to protect Hyun-ji, whose life he fears is in imminent danger, but as expected, Jang-su refuses to do so until right at the end when she is kidnapped by Yang’s men and due to be silenced for her knowledge of the crime. Jang-su’s change of heart happens through his young daughter Do-Kyung (Choi Yoo-ri), who suffers from a weak heart and needs a transplant soon if she is to survive.
It isn’t all that difficult to guess just how and where these pieces fall into place, as a somewhat pedestrian script by Kim Sung-jin largely charts a predictable course of events leading up to a foreseeable climax and an equally anticipated bittersweet conclusion. Indeed, you can probably tell if Hyun-ji is saved, or whether Tae-jin comes out of the coma, or whether Do-Kyung gets that transplant and a new lease of life in the process, even before you get to the end of the movie. But what the narrative lacks in surprises, it certainly makes up for in heart, not just in the writing but also in the heartfelt performances on display.
You’ll be moved by the devotion Jang-su displays towards his daughter, especially as she teeters on the brink of life and death. Ditto the commitment that Tae-jin has for Hyun-ji, who not only pays passers-by to purchase the remaining of the fish at her stall so she can close up for the night, but also secretly acquires her parents’ house that she had to give up following their death for both of them to move into and settle down. And last but not least, there is the friendship between Jang-su and Tae-jin, which as typical buddy comedies do, starts off with them being at odds with each other (while tailing the smugglers, Tae-jin runs into Jang-su and suspects that he might be entangled with them too) and gradually evolves into camaraderie. Ma and Kim share a natural, easygoing chemistry that rubs onto you, and makes them all the more pleasing and likeable to hang out with.
Truth be told, its sentimentality is ultimately what makes ‘Wonderful Ghost’ enjoyable viewing. Its story may be straightforward, but there is a sincerity in both its telling and its characters within that sticks with you. Never mind therefore the somewhat contrived coincidence at the end involving Do-Kyung’s surgeon, you’ll lap it up knowing it is meant to underscore how good deeds have a way of going around in life; and never mind too the obvious call-back at the end that shows Jang-su no longer pretending to look away, you’ll cheer with the passengers on board the bus as he teaches the young punk a lesson. It may be a tad of a stretch to call it wonderful, but certainly there are heart-warming pleasures to be had with this simple, unaffected comedy, so if you need a little reminder to take heart in the goodness of people around, then this movie will be just that feel-good pill.
(As predictable as it is heartfelt, this familiar yet pleasing buddy comedy is a feel-good reminder to take heart in the goodness of people around)
Review by Gabriel Chong