Spellbound, the Korean film that begins its U.S. release this week, is just as pitched by the movie’s PR people.  It’s definitely unusual.

The movie, directed and written by Hwang In-ho, uniquely blends horror with romantic comedy.  Some of the results are so jolting you’re bound to wonder where the film is headed, but, ultimately, the film pulls a rabbit out of the hat by making the combination work.

This is most evident in the ending tags.  They’re usually tailored for the vanities of the actors and director, but this time, as credits rolls by, there’s a hilarious interaction between the poltergeist and wisecracking sidekick that leaves you wanting more.

Undoubtedly, that’s what you’ll get, ultimately.  Spellbound is one of those imports that will be besieged by attempts to adapt it for U.S. audiences.  Already Hollywood-ized — at times to the point of feeling over-produced, with a potpourri of musical scoring styles — the film revolves around a street magician who meets a loner whose ability to see ghosts propels the magician to superstardom.  Think what Haley Joel Osment’s character in the Sixth Sense would be like in the dating world….  Here, the hero not only sees dead people, but the dead people become real to you when you’re near her.  Needless to say, she doesn’t have many friends, and those she does have communicate via phone only.

At times horrifying, the rom-com aspect of the story happily avoids making the poltergeist the focus.  This isn’t a copy of Topper or Over her Dead Body.  Here, the ghosts are just a device.

The poltergeists could even be an analogy for the barriers encountered in people’s quest for intimacy.  In fact, if there were to be an American adaptation, it would be a great gay love story.

Performances by the romantic leads are good, though Lee Min-Ki‘s scene before the obligatory “chase the girl at the airport” sequence is a bit overwrought for a rom-com.  Supporting characters could have been more of a driving force in the movie, but as noted, the ending, featuring one of them, paid off.  Without giving anything away, the term “deadpan” can be liberally applied to most of what Spellbound offers up.

Trailer here.

Website here.

 

— Ken Choy

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