Korean cinema’s favourite anti-hero is back. Korean-American actor Ma Dong Seok is doing what he does best — flexing his bulging biceps and funny bone in Wonderful Ghost. 

Ma Dong Seok is back in a familiar role, a hot-blooded softie in Wonderful Ghost.  (All photos courtesy of Golden Village Pictures)

The action comedy is a buddy cop film with a twist. A series of unexpected and unfortunate events leads to the unlikely pairing of Tae Jin (Kim Young Kwang) and Jang Su (Ma, who also goes by the English name Don Lee).

While tracking down hardcore criminals, police officer Tae Jin falls into a coma and has an out of body experience. Tae Jin is now a ghost invisible to the rest of the living word, except Jang Su. Much to Tae Jin’s dismay, Jang Su refuses to help.

Like all buddy cop films, co-stars Ma and Kim are forced to work together despite a clash in personalities.

Like all buddy cop films, the mismatched pair has conflicting personalities.

Police officer Tae Jin is a hot-blooded rookie determined to right every justice in his path and help every citizen in need, while Jang Su, a jaded judo instructor, believes in minding his own business. His only concern in life is to care for Do Kyung, his young daughter with a heart condition.

The co-stars are poles apart in the looks department. Standing at 1.87m, Kim was a lanky model strutting down runways before setting ladies’ hearts aflutter in K-movies and K-dramas.

Standing at 1.87m, Kim was a lanky model before becoming the charming heartthrob, a staple in K-dramas.

His partner, well, looks like a thug. Casting directors often stereotyped Ma in forgettable gangster-type roles, such as in Nameless Gangster: Rules of Time (2012).

That was Ma’s career before directors realised that he could be the equivalent of Psy in the acting industry, or as some have said, the Dwayne Johnson of Asian cinema.

Ma’s burly physique, on-screen persona and career trajectory bear certain similarities to his counterparts in K-pop and Hollywood. Being former personal trainers, Ma and ex pro-wrestler Johnson are typecast in punch-wielding, masculine roles. Ma pummelled his way through the zombie-filled Train To Busan, and into the hearts of regional audiences as an ordinary salaryman dead set on protecting his pregnant wife.

Jang Su’s motto in life is to not mind the business of others. His priority is his sick daughter Do Kyung.

In the recent Along With The Gods sequel, Ma is a renegade household god who defies the heavens to protect the family he lives with on earth.

Ma’s working-class characters in Train To Busan and Wonderful Ghost follow the classic anti-hero story arc. The familiar story goes like this: the protagonist chooses self-preservation over self-sacrificial acts. The conflicted soul encounters an unforeseen event, forcing him to confront his fears and evaluate his actions.

Train To Busan excels in the thrilling development of its characters. It’s not a clear cut scenario of who is a hero or villain. Audiences were kept at the edge of their seats, guessing whether Ma’s character would make it to safety or sacrifice himself for the sake of others.

Wonderful Ghost, on the other hand, has a feel-good plot which is predictable. It’s not hard to guess if Jang Su comes to terms with his insecurities and emerges a hero. In spite of a slow start to a cliched plot, there’s an endearing touch to fumbling underdogs banding together to fight the baddies. 

The diverse duo shares a connection onscreen, eliciting laughter despite a cliched plot. 

The diverse duo shares a connection onscreen, eliciting laughter despite a cliched plot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The script doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet tries to impart an altruistic message about helping others. Trying to straddle serious and comedic tones means the movie doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Wonderful Ghost isn’t likely to fall into the category of an enduring classic. 

 

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