WHEN GHOST MEETS ZOMBIE (女鬼爱上尸)
Director : Han Yew Kwang
Cast : Nathan Hartono, Ferlyn G, Jesseca Liu, Jeremy Chan, Fann Wong, Gurmit Singh, Andie Chen, Kate Pang, Suhaimi Yusof
Genre : Romance/Comedy/Horror
Run Time : 1 h 47 mins
Opens : 14 February 2019
Rating : PG13
Romantic zombie comedies are a niche subgenre, but those movies have their fans. From My Boyfriend’s Back to Warm Bodies to Burying the Ex, there’s often a cult film quality to these oddball horror romantic comedy hybrids. Throwing its hat (or disembodied limb) in the ring is When Ghost Meets Zombie.
Zhen Zhen (Ferlyn G) is a beauty pageant contestant who can be characterised as an ‘ah lian’, roughly analogous to the Essex Girl stereotype from the UK. She’s brasher and not as refined as her fellow competitors, but she refuses to compromise who she is. Zhen Zhen and the other contestants travel to Rainbow Village in Thailand for a photoshoot. Local legend has it that a group of heroic young men sacrificed themselves to save the village from an impending flood some 50 years ago, propping up a wall as everyone else got to safety. Pong (Nathan Hartono) was the leader of this group. These young men did not die but were turned into zombies by a priest.
When an accident in the village leads to Zhen Zhen’s death, her spirit inadvertently possesses Pong’s undead body. If Zhen Zhen doesn’t fulfil her heart’s desire in 49 days, she will vanish into nothingness forever. Zhen Zhen finds her way back to Singapore and discovers there’s still a way for her to fulfil her dream of winning a beauty pageant. With the help of her best friend Bai Bai (Jesseca Liu), a mortuary cosmetologist, Pong enters a male beauty pageant. Zhen Zhen’s mother Meng Na (Fann Wong) is still grappling with the death of her daughter, and Zhen Zhen’s spirit in Pong’s body must convince Meng Na that her daughter’s presence remains in this realm.
When Ghost Meets Zombie is the first feature film from WaWa Pictures, a prolific local production company known for Chinese-language TV series like Secrets for Sale, The Oath, Game Plan and Crescendo. Han Yew Kwang, who also helmed the 2015 sex comedy Rubbers, directs from a screenplay by the WaWa team. The result is a mish-mash of disparate elements which doesn’t gel. There’s a faint glimmer of something appealing buried beneath lots of stuff that just doesn’t work.
The plot is needlessly convoluted, with plenty of rules needing to be established. The supernatural mechanics of a ghost possessing a zombie are over-explained and yet still make no sense. What little underlying logic there is seems simultaneously overthought and undercooked.
There is an unsettling nature to the occult aspects of the story which the filmmakers attempt to smooth over with comedy, to very mixed results. Gurmit Singh’s Taoist priest character constantly cuts himself and even chops off his own fingers – this is somehow inherently comedic. Elsewhere, another character gets a face full of ashes after an urn containing the remains of their relative is smashed on the floor. The film doesn’t have the wicked wit needed to make the requisite dark humour work and has this bright sitcom artificiality to it which is incompatible with the more macabre elements of the story.
In addition to the various story and character problems brought about by the specific subject matter, the usual issues that plague locally-made Chinese-language comedy movies are present here. There are scores of cameos from TV personalities in lieu of jokes, and Jack Neo shows up to name-check films he’s directed in a cringe-inducing scene. The product placement from brands like massage chair maker Ogawa, beauty spa New York Skin Solutions and restaurant group Tung Lok is omnipresent and obtrusive. Then there’s the tonal whiplash, with sentimentality added to the nauseating mix of horror and comedy.
Nathan Hartono is a likeable, charming performer, and the film gets plenty of mileage out of his swoon-worthy physique. However, one can’t help but feel sympathy well up watching him get subjected to myriad indignities. As a zombie, he has almost no actual lines. He proves sufficiently adept at physical comedy and there is an attempt at developing a back-story for Pong, but it’s clear that this isn’t the best use of Hartono’s talents.
The thing is, a romantic pairing between Nathan Hartono and Ferlyn G is not the worst idea – Ferlyn’s brash persona and Hartono’s typically suave demeanour would have made for a good odd couple pairing. It’s just that the filmmakers constantly set up obstacles in their own way. This is a romance between a disembodied spirit and an undead creature, so no amount of chemistry can compensate for the logistic and metaphysical problems that arise. The sappy guitar-driven duet performed by Hartono and Ferlyn is pleasant but is a poor fit for this movie.
The supporting performers do the best with what they can – the romantic subplot between Jesseca Liu’s Bai Bai and Jeremy Chan’s Lai Lai could have been worthwhile if it weren’t so underdeveloped and fuelled by clichés. Fann Wong’s performance as a grieving mother is surprisingly affecting, but feels out of place in a madcap comedy, yet another sign of the film’s tonal inconsistency.
Gurmit Singh’s priest character, the de-facto villain, is altogether off-putting. The character is ostensibly comedic but is also meant to be menacing, and Singh just seems miscast.
When Ghost Meets Zombie tries something crazy and fails at it, but the filmmakers deserve credit for trying. It’s hard to determine what anyone really was going for and everything could stand to be a lot more streamlined, but it has Hartono in the lead role going for it. It’s perhaps in trying to appeal to fans of Channel 8 comedies and dramas while also trying to incorporate horror comedy elements into the story that When Ghost Meets Zombie falls apart.
RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars