South Korean film “Ghost Walk” is a modest but haunting fantasy drama about urban loneliness and isolation. As its heroine calmly journeys backward through her last several days as a ghost, the movie slowly establishes its melancholic mood surrounding her and a few other characters in the story, and we come to reflect more on their gloomy status of existence with some pity and empathy.
The story mainly revolves around Hye-jeong (Han Hae-in), a young woman who works in a factory on the outskirts of some city. While she is currently living with two other young women in her residence, she is not particularly close to them, and she also does not have much interest in responding to the tentative courtship from a male factory worker. When they happen to walk together to her residence on one day, he shows her some care and affection, but she flatly rejects him because, well, she cannot afford a romantic relationship as trying hard to earn her living day by day.
The movie moves forward to several days later, and we see Hye-jeong returning to her residence after going through another usual day at her workplace. She comes across a little girl asking for help, but the girl is somehow disappeared when Hye-jeong looks back at the girl again. As she feels like hearing the girl’s voice from somewhere, Hye-jeong hurriedly goes inside her residence, and she becomes more anxious in the next evening after she reads a notice warning her of the possible danger of walking alone at night.
And then something happens to Hye-jeong. She subsequently wakes up as a ghost, and, as reflected by the opening line at the beginning of the movie, time goes backward for her night by night. At first, she sees the police examining her death scene after her unconscious body was found then taken to a local hospital, and then she witnesses how much her two roommates are shocked by this unexpected incident. Although they and she did not know each other much despite living together in the same place for a while, they cannot help but emotionally affected by her death, and there is nothing Hye-jeong can do for them as she observes them from the distance.
Whenever she wakes up, Hye-jeong finds herself moved back further into the past, and she comes to know more about a few people’s daily lives surrounding hers. For example, that little girl, named Soo-yang (Gam So-hyun), turns out to be more significant than expected, and there is a sad, poignant moment when she leads Hye-jeong to an abandoned place and then shows what happened to her not long before Hye-jeong’s incident. In case of Hyo-yeon (Jeon So-nee), who is one of Hye-jeong’s roommates, it subsequently turns out that she has been under a very desperate financial situation, and Hye-jeong accordingly comes to realize that she could have helped Hyo-yeon and, to some extent, Soo-yang, if she had showed more care and attention to them.
The movie feels undeniably bleak on the whole, but then it gradually generates some emotional warmth via the unlikely relationship development between Hye-jeong and Soo-yang later in the story. She finds that she can somehow communicate with Soo-yang although Soo-yang cannot see her, and the story eventually becomes a little more tense as Hye-jeong later attempts to do something for Hyo-yeon as well as Soo-yang.
Nevertheless, the movie keeps sticking to its slow narrative pacing under the competent direction of director/writer Yu Eun-jeong, who previously made several short films before making this first feature film of hers. As she steadily maintains the stark atmosphere on the screen, the sense of loneliness and isolation surrounding its female main characters becomes more palpable to us, and we are reminded more of their considerable social vulnerability. They are all alone in each own way, and the movie indirectly emphasizes the importance of social solidarity via its sobering presentation of their isolated situations.
As the emotional anchor of the movie we can hold onto, newcomer Han Hae-in ably carries the film with her unadorned lead performance, and she is also supported well by several good performers in the film. While Jeon So-nee, who previously played a crucial supporting character in “After My Death” (2017), demonstrates here that she is another talented young actress to watch, young performer Gam So-hyun is effortlessly natural as doing more than holding her own place well beside Han, and Lee Geun-hoo is well-cast in his small but substantial supporting role.
Although “Ghost Walk” may demand you some patience for its slow narrative pacing and low-key mood, but it is a rewarding experience which will leave you some lasting impression. This is one of the notable debut feature films of this year in South Korea, and it will surely show you that Yu is another talented South Korean female filmmaker who deserves more attention and support.
By the way, I must confess that I unfortunately felt drowsy at times due to my physical condition while I watched the movie along with a group of audiences in a rather small screening room during last afternoon. I am not that sure about whether I absorbed and understood everything in the film, but I still had a fairly interesting time with it at least, and I am certainly willing to revisit it for appreciating its good elements more.