Movie Review: Ghost Mansion (괴기맨숀)

Many Asians have a thing about buying or renting property where a murder or suicide has taken place. Because of the stigma associated with death and the possibility that it may be haunted, such places are more than likely reduced in price. I think the law in Hong Kong, though, is that the property agent only has to reveal the information to the first purchaser or tenant. Presumably, if the first owners/tenants didn’t report any wandering or vengeful spirits, the subsequent owners/tenants will be fine. In any case, there has been no shortage of horror films over the years where someone moves into such a place and either meets a gruesome demise or disappears never to be seen again. In Japanese films, it’s often a waif-like female who can bug out her eyes and scream like a banshee at the first sight of blood. The acting in South Korean films is more nuanced, though that’s not to say that the films are any better.

The Korean film GHOST MANSION tells the tale of a young webtoonist (I didn’t even know this was a word until I saw this movie) named Ji-woo (Sung Joon/성준), who decides to amp up his floundering career by doing a graphic series based on the spooky rumours of what happened to some of the residents of a now-abandoned apartment complex after they had moved in. Ji-woo’s entrée into the building known as Gwang-lim Mansion and its ghost stories is through the building’s reserved caretaker (played by Kim Hong-pa/김홍파, SEOBOK (서복)). The caretaker’s first story is about the writer who moves into Apartment 504 so that he can focus on finishing his novel. He keeps hearing noises coming from children in the flat below his but the flat is empty. Next up is the pharmacist in Apartment 907. She’s dating a married man who may or may not have just killed his wife and child. Third is the property agent in 708 who rented the flat to the writer in 504. He has a nice little fetish going on in his flat but then strange things start bubbling up from his kitchen sink. Fourth is the student who moves back to South Korea from being overseas and crashes at his childhood friend’s flat in 604. The friend, though, is not the neatest of housekeepers and everything is covered in mold. With each story, Ji-woo wants to learn more. When his editor tells him that he loves the series, Ji-woo returns to the caretaker for more stories. This time, though, the story is about the caretaker himself.

For a movie that’s 106 minutes long, there’s a lot of ground for sophomore director Jo Ba-reun/조바른 to cover and that’s the biggest problem with this film. Each of these stories on their own (and especially the one about the kinky property agent) could be its own full-length film, where more time could be spent developing the characters and building up the suspense instead of just throwing jump scare after jump scare at the audience after a very brief introduction. The project apparently started out as an eight-part TV series with each segment being 20 minutes long so some thought was obviously given to fleshing out the script. It’s too bad they didn’t go further with that plan. This is what we’ve got, though, and all five stories together is just overkill – no pun intended. As a result, the jump scares, of which there are many, get tedious and repetitive, making the whole movie a disappointment.

GHOST MANSION isn’t a complete disaster though. The lives of these characters intersect more than they themselves know and Jo films one scene where they do from three different angles, giving audiences each of the characters’ perspectives. Acting performances are uniformly good as well. Yes, there are bugged out eyes and a few screams but it’s not over the top.

GHOST MANSION opens tomorrow (July 29th) in Hong Kong. It could have been much better than it is but it’s not horrible. It’s a good example of a film where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

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