K-drama review: Oh My Ghost

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This was largely a random Netflix find, possibly loosely inspired by a recent conversation at work about how ghosts occupy a different place in East Asian culture to Western culture. Oh My Ghost (2015 tvN) also heavily features chefs and cooking, which I have recently realised I am a big fan of in my TV choices. And the trailer for it looked light and silly, which appealed to me.

Oh My Ghost is a combination of sweet romance, crime drama and supernatural comedy, and it handles all those elements really well. It discusses sex and passion reasonably openly, for a K-drama. And the leads are very beautiful. Which means this comes pretty high in my ranking of K-dramas, despite my low expectations.

Na Bong-sun (Park Bo-young – who also played the lead in Strong Woman Do Bong-soon) is a shy assistant in the kitchen of superstar chef Kang Sun-woo (Jo Jung-suk). She aspires to be a chef and learn all she can from working at Sun Restaurant, but her crippling shyness means she is alternately ignored and shouted at.

Part of the reason she is so quiet is that Bong-sun can see ghosts and they are always bothering her. Enter the ghost of Shin Soon-ae (Kim Seul-gi) who died a virgin and has been possessing the bodies of attractive young women and seducing men, only for all the men to nearly die before she gets satisfaction. Only a man with “good energy” will withstand intimate contact with her. While running away from a shaman, Soon-ae jumps into the body of Bong-sun and finds that she is stuck there.

As far as Bong-sun’s colleagues at the restaurant are concerned, she has had a sudden personality transplant. She is acting outgoing, confident, flirtatious, but also appears to have memory problems and her friends are worried about her. Soon-ae, meanwhile, is annoyed to be surrounded by men who see her as a sweet little sister and sets out to change that. Particularly when it comes to the very attractive but very arrogant Chef Kang, whose soft side comes out only for his sister.

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Sun-woo and Bong-sun have great chemistry.

When Soon-ae manages to end the possession, she is surprised to find that Bong-sun isn’t completely upset by what happened. Soon-ae has saved her career, improved her friendships and caught the eye of the man Bong-sun loves. They come to an agreement whereby they will help each other – an arrangement that gets complicated when questions arise about Soon-ae’s death.

What I liked about this show – besides all the food and cooking, or the largely happy, cheery vibe – is that every time I had misgivings about where a plotline or character development was going, the show would pivot to deal with my specific issue. It explores ideas around memory, personality and trust far more than I had expected. And it’s mostly well acted, with great chemistry between all the leads.

The romance is sweet and it also has passionate moments. The ghost story features comedy, pathos, tragedy and revenge. The crime/mystery thread takes a little longer to get going, but on reflection it is teased from the start and becomes genuinely gripping. The side characters are all interesting, generally developing from a stereotype into a rounded character within a few episodes.

The largely jazz-piano backing music makes a change from the usual K-pop soundtrack. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of pop music, but it sets a certain tone – a teenage vibe, perhaps. And if you’re going to repeat a piece of music over and over again like a motif, far better it be instrumental. Maybe that’s just my taste.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say Oh My Ghost is perfect – it doesn’t avoid all the annoying TV tropes – but this is a really enjoyable show. I clearly have to trust Netflix recommendations, not Korean TV viewing figures!

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