To Catch A Virgin Ghost (시실리2km, Shin Jeong-won: 2004)

Seok-tae decides to rip-off the group of gangsters that he works for and leaves the city carrying a bag full of diamonds. After having a road accident he finds himself stranded in a tiny village where the friendly villagers welcome him in to their homes and let him stay for the night, but a silly prank goes wrong and Seok-tae is accidentally killed. When the villagers discover the diamonds they decide to hide his body – but then they are visited by the rest of the gangster crew, who explain quite clearly that they want their diamonds back…

To Catch A Virgin Ghost (also known as Sisly 2km) is an attempt to blend some popular genres – taking the gangster film, some broad comedy and a few horror elements – to create what should, on paper at least, provide a good scope for some clever ideas. In this case though what we find is a very uneven and hit-and-miss collection of ideas. If the idea of yet another gangster comedy sounds like a terrible one to you then stay away, this isn’t going to convince you that there’s any new material to mine from this particular style of film – To Catch A Virgin Ghost is never particularly original or intelligent. For anyone else who is willing to brave the waters of obvious gags and some fairly random plotting, then this is a flawed but still relatively amusing 100 minutes.

The directorial debut of Shin Jeong-won (who also directed the recent Chaw) To Catch A Virgin Ghost, not unlike his subsequent monster-pig film, seems to toy with the idea of switching tact and making a sudden gear-change into either completely off-beat comedy or out-and-out horror, but instead opts for the relatively safe reliance on familiar formulas and amusing performances, sticking to comfortable ground and never wandering off into more original territory. It seems like Shin Jeong-won may be a director who will one day have the confidence to flit off onto a tangent – and he may well be all the better for it – but it’s not something that happens here. It’s nicely directed though and pretty evenly paced with some running gags that move the narrative along amusingly, and so as long as the wacky gangster comedy scenes sit as well with you as they did me, then it doesn’t flag.

With a script that mixes some decent ideas with some tired ones, it’s largely due to the talent of its cast that To Catch A Virgin Ghost gets most of it’s laughs – although they’re still unfortunately under utilised for pretty much the whole time. Kwon Oh-jung is amusing as Seok-tae, the unlucky thief who has decided to run out on his crew, but it’s Lim Chang-jung who gets the majority of the laughs – at his expense – as Yang Yi, the put upon gang leader whose job is to retrieve the stolen diamonds. Also worth mentioning is Shin Yi is who puts in an effective, albeit brief, appearance in the final third of the running time. One thing that does grate a little is that it’s difficult to see an actor like Byeon Hee-bong (The Host) appearing as one of the villagers only to find that he never really gets anything worthwhile to get his teeth into. Sure he’s a welcome on-screen face, but it’s typical of To Catch A Virgin Ghost that there’s no real stand-out moments for anyone but the two central gangsters.

With the exception of one brief Evil Dead-like scene To Catch A Virgin Ghost never commits to more than just a nod to its ‘horror’ elements, and this is one area where the film would maybe have stood out more had this been developed further. While the horror genre has no shortage of ideas to pillage – to either spoof or embrace – To Catch A Virgin Ghost does little more than chuck in a supernatural element in order to provide a gear change in the final third and also to provide a sense of closure as the final credits roll. To be fair it does work fairly well in the main as it manages to misstep your initial expectations from the opening of the film, however the ‘ghost’ aspect is so ramped up in the trailers and posters for the film that it is almost marketed as a horror film – something that ultimately works against it.

The script is never intelligent to make this an out and out spoof of genres, so To Catch A Virgin Ghost never goes further than a few gags and a tip of the hat to its ‘horror’ and ‘gangster’ inspirations. There’s a couple of particularly amusing quips such as references to how pretty the ghost is – but how scary her eyes are – and Shin Yi (as the ghost) plays the role straight and lets Lim Chang-jung get on with mugging his way through the scenes. This is typical of the style of To Catch A Virgin Ghost – it’s content to plod its way through several set pieces and let the cast do the work in trying to wring the laughs out of scenes. It works, but its also the reason the film as a whole feels like it should have been tighter and developed further.

To Catch A Virgin Ghost won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it’s generally a very likeable – if not particularly memorable – couple of hours. It smacks of unfulfilled potential, but if you can let this slide and go with it then there’s some good laughs to be had and it at least manages to shoe-horn in a fairly ‘feel-good’ conclusion that at least doesn’t leave you rolling your eyes and wincing at the whole thing.

시실리2km (To Catch A Virgin Ghost)
Directed by Shin Jeong-won
Produced by Jonathan Kim
Written by Lee Chang-si, Hwang In-ho
Starring Kwon Oh-jung, Lim Chang-jung, Shin Yi, Byeon Hee-bong

To Catch A Virgin Ghost Image © Hanmac Films, Monday Entertainment