When Ghost Meets Zombie (女鬼爱上尸) review

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’re given – 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

Jedd Jong

Young & Fabulous (最佳伙扮)

For F*** Magazine

YOUNG AND FABULOUS (最佳伙扮)

Director : Joyce Lee, Michael WooCast : Aloysius Pang, Joshua Tan, Joyce Chu, Jeffrey Xu, Gurmit Singh, Henry Thia, Quan Yi Fong, Jordan Ng, The Sam Willows
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 47 mins
Opens : 26 May 2016
Rating : PG (Some Coarse Language)

This comedy plunges us into the world of sewing machines, oversized foam swords, flowing robes and lots of makeup: the local cosplay scene. Royston (Pang) is a shy, top-scoring student with social anxiety. His mother Mei Feng (Quan) intends for him to become a doctor, but Royston dreams of being a fashion designer with his own label in Japan. Royston tailors costumes for the local cosplay community. His friend and client Chen Jun (Xu), who cross-dresses as female characters, eventually convinces Royston to try cosplaying himself. Royston secretly nurses a crush on his classmate Violet (Chu), a conceited social media darling from an affluent family. Royston’s best friend Hao Ren (Tan), an enterprising smooth-talker, encourages Royston’s pursuit of his hobby. Royston, Violet and Hao Ren eventually form a cosplaying team, while facing opposition from all sides. Mr. Boo (Singh), the school’s stern Discipline Master, is none too pleased that his students are diverting their attention away from their studies. Will passion conquer all, or will reality stomp on their dreams?

            It’s perfectly understandable that actual cosplayers would be wary of Young & Fabulous. After all, the hobby has often been misunderstood and thus misrepresented by those on the outside. As with any circle of enthusiasts, there are figures in the local cosplay who are admired for their craftsmanship and others who have gained notoriety for some reason or another, with a surprising amount of politicking in between. Anyway, it’s most helpful to think of Young & Fabulous not as a movie about cosplay, but as a comedy-drama which uses the hobby as a textural element. The themes in the film are not explored with great depth, but they are readily relatable. Most any Singaporean with artistic inclinations knows what it’s like to be reminded by their parents that one won’t be able to make a stable income outside of being a doctor/lawyer/accountant.

            As with many commercial Singaporean films, Young & Fabulous is sorely lacking in subtlety. The stylistic flourishes that include daydream sequences filled with deliberately cheesy visual effects, or comedy sound effects and on-screen graphics reminiscent of those one would see in an anime, tend to be a little too silly. However, barring one extremely jarring tonal shift, the balance between the comedy and drama tends to work. This reviewer was moved by several scenes, and there’s also a reveal in the final act that’s a real gut-punch. While it’s far from a nuanced portrayal of the cosplay scene, a great many actual cosplayers were involved in the making of the film, and if you’re in that community, you’ll recognise at least a couple of familiar faces in the crowd scenes. In addition to the standard blooper reel, the end credits also feature short interviews with actual cosplayers, including a pilot, a lawyer and an engineer, who explain what drew them to the hobby.

            Pang, one of local Chinese-language television’s “Eight Dukes”, is eminently endearing and easy to root for as the shy, stuttering underdog who eventually comes into his own. There are several moments when he dials the awkwardness up to 11 and it feels like an affectation, but that can be probably chalked up to a directorial choice as well. Nevertheless, there’s a depth of sincerity to his performance here. When Royston breaks down in tears, it is genuinely heart-rending. Ah Boys to Men star Tan is immensely likeable, charming when the character could’ve been plenty obnoxious. Hao Ren is an experienced huckster who’s opportunistic, but never at the expense of looking out for his friends, and seems like a pretty awesome wingman to have around.

            Malaysian singer Chu makes her acting debut in this film. Unfortunately, she has to bury her innate sweetness beneath layers of a princess complex. As far as female leads go, Violet is surprisingly catty and unkind, which brings us to the conclusion that Royston is really only drawn to her looks. There is an attempt to justify Violet’s behaviour by way of her snooty parents, played by Constance Song and Bernard Tan, but there’s far from enough character development if we’re expected to view Violet as a decent human being by the end of the movie.

            Singh makes a departure from his typically over-the-top comedic roles as the no-nonsense Mr. Boo, who seems the be the only teacher in the school. He gets to shine in a scene opposite Henry Thia, who plays Hao Ren’s father Hao Lian (a homonym for the Mandarin term for ‘boastful’), with Hao Ren translating for the two. Quan’s character, with her heart set on crushing her children’s dreams and who is prone to labelling her younger son Jordan (Jordan Ng) as “dumb”, is easy to dislike. However, it turns out that the film offers very compelling reasons for her actions and attitude, and while it’s exploration of parent-child tendencies may be very on-the-nose, it’s a relationship that this reviewer did get invested in. Quan also has a gem of a comedic scene in which she gives a speech to a sausage. We will not provide the context for this lest we ruin the joke.
            Xu, fellow ‘Duke’ to Pang, steals the show as the flamboyant Chen Jun, the de facto gay best friend whose sexual orientation is strongly hinted at but never referred to directly. Xu is having a ball of a time, and quite hearteningly, the film does not mock the character’s crossdressing outright. Sure, more than a few laughs are had at his expense, but he’s also made out to be confident and talented at his chosen hobby. Also look out for the members of indie band The Sam Willows, who cameo as school bullies.

            Young & Fabulous is surprisingly bereft of conspicuous product placement, a pitfall that affects many Singaporean films. There is a bottle of chicken essence with its label actually obscured. Co-directors Lee and Woo may not have portrayed the cosplay scene with utmost accuracy, but their intentions to depict the passion and craftsmanship that goes into the hobby cannot be faulted. Similarly, the difficulties faced by any young Singaporean in realising their artistic endeavours do make for adequately dramatic material.

Summary: Dressed to the sixes and sevens, rather than to the nines – what it lacks in subtlety, it somewhat makes up for in humour and heart.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong