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Spellbound - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Ossakhan Yeonae

South Korea 2011

Romance, Comedy, Horror

Hwang In-ho

Lee Min-ki
Son Ye-jin
Kim Hyeon-sook
Park Cheol-min
Lee Mi-do
Sin Seong-hoon

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aka Chilling Romance

Story: Ma Jo-goo (Lee Min-ki) is a magician and makes money by giving small performances. However, one day he sees Kang Yeo-ri (Son Ye-jin) in the audience, who catches his eye because of her sad expression and her ghost-like appearance. Thanks to her he comes up with the idea of a big show in which he fights a ghost. Yeo-ri gets a job in the show and Jo-goo is actually quite successful. Still, the magician is wondering why Yeo-ri never accompanies them when her colleagues go out for dinner. She is always all by herself and never meets with friends. Jo-goo gets curious and he soon gets behind the woman's secret. Since the day she had a near-death experience Yeo-ri is able to see ghosts and tries to help them or at least not be harmed by them. Yeo-ri and the magician start to meet on a more frequent basis and even though Jo-goo has a girlfriend, Yeo-ri is imagining how things would be to have him has her boyfriend. Sadly, no one could ever stick to her for long. As soon as people come in contact with Yeo-ri they can see ghosts as well and so she is avoided by everyone. Could Jo-goo be an exception?

Review: Remember those years when Korean romantic comedies were still original? "Spellbound" is very ambitioned since it tries to mix together several genres and thus create an extraordinary love story. In fact this works out pretty well and so the end product is also worthwhile for those viewers that aren't really reluctant to watch movies of the genre, but aren't into your typical shallow "chick flick". Because all the romance and comedy aside there are also a few horror elements that more often than not fit into the movie better than expected. "Spellbound" still can't do without abiding by certain rules of the genre and so the ending becomes rather predictable, even though the film also features a twist that is typical for a horror film, therefore presenting you with a little surprise after all.

Who said that you only need to check your brain at the entrance with action movies? The same applies to romantic movies as well, that is if you don't believe in an all sunshine and lollipop fairy tale world. But that actually isn't the problem with "Spellbound". Instead the horror motive proves to be the source for some plot holes. How can Yeo-ri still be afraid of ghosts if she sees them for about ten years already?! Even the more since they apparently aren't doing anything dangerous except of making your blood run cold with the usual scary tricks they utilize. In respect of the lighthearted tone of the movie it also would be strange if the ghosts would actually kill someone. Nevertheless, towards the end ghosts in fact pose a serious threat for life and limb after all. Only because the movie is in need of a climax?

Nonetheless, there has to be given some kudos for the fact that director Hwang In-ho, writer of "Two Faces of my Girlfriend" und "Love Phobia", had the courage to blend horror with rom-com elements in his debut work. Most of the time this works out pretty well, as already stated. Son Ye-jin ("A Moment to Remember", "White Night") is great in her role as the seclusive woman who eventually is more afraid of having a real date than of ghosts. Moreover, there is always the uncertainty if Jo-goo can accept her pecularities. In her special case those are, to make things worse, ghosts. Yet, they can also be understood as allegories for the pecularities of a normal woman. But then again you probably shouldn't be interpreting too much into things either...

Lee Min-ki ("Quick") plays the magician and even though he somehow is antipathetic to me, apparently woman's mind seems to be thinking different, he manages to conquer the viewer's heart in his role. The chemistry between him and Son Ye-jin is just about right and that's also where director Hwang's experience when it comes to writing a screenplay comes to the foreground. The jokes are thrown in in good intervals and at the least manage to make you smile, the characters, including the supporting characters, are likeable and Hwang succeeds in creating a warm feeling when the two protagonists get closer. The only thing annoying at first is the soundtrack which seems too slapstick-like. Furthermore, there are some scenes that are just too hackneyed for the genre and could have become annoying with less well-achieving actors in the lead.

Director Hwang In-ho without a doubt has a knack for romantic stories and he actually does everything right. The two actors get the best out of their roles and although there is never the shadow of a doubt that the two have to come together eventually, there are enough twists thanks to the horror elements. In fact, those who are easily scared can expect to jump out of their seats on a few occasions. It is surprising how well Hwang could blend romance/comedy and horror. For that reason alone "Spellbound" stands out from similar movies. Therefore, it wouldn't be fair to give it the same rating as so many other romance flicks get from me. Thus, I will be especially lenient and give it a better rating than one would expect of me.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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