Exploring Korean Drama: Oh My Ghost

A ghost fast approaching her third year in the afterlife – the deadline upon which she’ll turn into an evil spirit – needs to resolve her grudge and move on. But this ghost, who while living was named Shin Soon Ae, is a virgin ghost, meaning that in order to move on, she needs to have sex. For that she needs to possess a body, and find a “man of stamina,” who can withstand the terrible ghostly chills that will result from any romantic contact. Soon Ae finds her marks in Kang Sun Woo, chef-owner of Sun Restaurant, and Na Bong Seon, his kitchen assistant who, coincidentally, can see ghosts.

Of course things don’t play out so cleanly, and the story belongs as much to Bong Seon as it does to Soon Ae. Oh My Ghost is one of those rare, nearly perfect shows that draws you in with a silly funny premise, and then delivers a tightly-written, character-driven show that has you sobbing as it’s all wrapped up in the final episodes.

The stars here are of course Park Bo Young (playing Na Bong Seon) and Kim Seul Gi (playing Shin Soon Ae). The premise has the always-hilarious Kim Seul Gi, who became famous on Korea’s Saturday Night Live, written all over it, but the writing actually plays a switch. Most of Soon Ae’s funniest scenes are when she’s possessing Bong Seon’s body, and that’s where the excellent Park Bo Young comes in; she has Kim Seul Gi’s mannerisms and delivery down solid. Of course, that a famous actor of Park Bo Young’s caliber carries off playing such two different characters is no surprise.

The greater (positive) surprise is that Kim Seul Gi is left mostly with more serious and heartbreaking material to convey. It was her performance at two key points in the series’ penultimate and final episodes that had me sobbing; that is, her performance in conjunction with the writing and character development.

Because those things are what make Oh My Ghost truly great. Central to the romance of the show is the question of with whom did Sun Woo truly fall in love: Bong Seon, whom he thought he was dating but who he didn’t seem to show an interest in before, or Soon Ae, whose antics and aggressive pursuit demanded his attention?

Soo Ae in Bong Seon's body is very goal oriented.

Soon Ae in Bong Seon’s body is very goal oriented.

The answer both succeeds and misfires. Oh My Ghost does a believable job establishing Sun Woo’s prior, unrealized attraction to Bong Seon. He’s hard on her at the beginning because he recognizes the same qualities in himself that he was bullied for as a child. He connects with Bong Seon’s shyness and childhood loneliness, and, in true kdrama form, is a fan of a food blog he doesn’t realize is hers until much later in the show.

His reactions to Soon Ae (in Bong Seon’s body)’s constant sexual harassment are likely a (somewhat clumsy) attempt to further hint at Sun Woo’s pre-existing attachment to Bong Seon. Soon Ae’s continued advances towards Sun Woo are unacceptable, but the power dynamics at play are essential. Sun Woo is 1) a man, 2) physically much bigger, 3) older than Bong Seon, and 4) Bong Seon’s boss. The last point is the most essential (number 3 seeming less important to our culture, but of greater importance in Korea). 

Sun Woo is Bong Seon’s boss; he could fire her or formally reprimand her for her behavior, but he never does. In fact, he never has a serious talk about Soon Ae/Bong Seon’s sexual aggression until after they’ve started dating. That still doesn’t make Soon Ae’s persistence right, but the fact that Sun Woo never puts his foot down, when he easily could, is likely meant to be an indicator of his feelings for Bong Seon, even if it’s one not as well executed as the others.

We do see Sun Woo struggle to determine to whom (Bong Seon or Soon Ae) he was really connected, after he learns the truth. And that is utterly necessary. The only problem is that the show wraps up the struggle a bit too quickly; soon separation and danger and the heightened emotions that come with them sweep away Sun Woo’s justified anger.

Yeah, this love triangle is SUPER awkward.

Yeah, this love triangle is SUPER awkward.

But that is to be expected; even a kdrama doesn’t have unlimited time to give Sun Woo a more believable period to sort through his feelings. At least he confronts the issue at all, and because I am primarily here for the cute I can’t truly complain (even though I do want realistic thoughtful cute, not sustenance-free fluff). Otherwise the show is stuffed full of strong character development. So many of the characters – the main ones and even some of the secondary – grow and develop in realistic ways over the course of the show. One such highlight worth mentioning is the shaman and the relationship she develops with Soon Ae.

The only weak point comes with the villain. He’s at first a trusted community and family member. His chilling menace comes on slowly. It all builds up to a fantastic, heartbreaking conclusion. Then the ultimate explanation that he was possessed by an evil spirit that drove him to his horrible actions feels cheap. If looked at through the lens of Soon Ae’s character – this is what she will become if she doesn’t resolve her grudge – it’s more understandable, but still, on a show where every other major character is so well thought out and so believably developed, it’s a weak link.

These are just nitpicks of an overall excellent show. If you, like me, love Halloween but are a scaredy-cat when it comes to actual horror, then Oh My Ghost, with its few creepy ghost scenes but overall fluff backed up by strong writing, is the perfect kdrama to marathon this October.

Oh My Ghost is available to stream on Viki, DramaFever, OnDemandKorea, and Hulu.