Subtext | Otherworldly Romance
Romance between humans and otherworldly entities is a common theme in fantasy dramas. It’s not hard to see why. It creates a natural tension, and it gives us a familiar emotion to ground us in an otherworldly story. Plus people like romance, especially if it’s well done. Korean dramas especially are well known for their romantic plots, so it’s not surprising that they indulge in this a lot. We’ve already covered several works that fall into this category, actually (including most of the Hong Sisters back catalogue), and I’m sure we will again, but here’s two more of my favourites in the genre – one of them not once, but twice.
Bring It On, Ghost (2016)
I’ll be honest: this is a show I’ve wanted to cover since I started this column. In fact I’d already begun research when I found out that it had been dropped from Netflix sometime in the last few years. Luckily for us though, Amazon Prime have started picking up a few choice Korean series and this was one of them. (Here’s hoping a few other things I’d wanted to write about, like Cheo Yong or the Venom Mob movies, pop up there in the future.)
Based on a Korean webtoon of the late 2000s, Bring It On, Ghost originally aired on Korean TV back in 2016. The Korean title it originally released under was the same as the webtoon and literally translates as “Hey Ghost! Let’s Fight!”. It stars Ok Taec-yeon (known professionally as Taecyeon) as Park Bong-pal, a student cursed with the ability to see ghosts and who is working as an exorcist to raise the money for an operation to remove the ability. As the title suggests, the way he exorcises the ghosts is by beating them up. (The fight work in the show is doubly impressive when you find out that Taecyeon was just out of a set of surgeries and physio to repair damage to his arm from a dislocation and a serious break.) Through unlikely circumstances he winds up partnering with a female ghost, Kim Hyun-ji, played by Kim So-hyun. (The same year she was also starring in Nightmare High which we’ve looked at previously.) She died in a car accident five years previously, and he helps her to investigate her past while she helps him banish ghosts. Bong-Pal’s guardian, the mediocre exorcist monk Myung-cheol, and the university ghost-hunting club, who are desperate to recruit him, all provide complications to the mysteries behind the show.
Bring It On, Ghost was very well received, being one of the top ten Korean cable dramas of 2016. Taecyeon and Kim So-hyun were already on the trajectory that’s placed them as two stars of the Korean screen, and the series showcases their talents perfectly. While the second half (after the traditional Korean drama twist) does drag a little at first, it soon picks up speed again and ends on a high note. Incidentally, a Thai version released in 2021 (available on Netflix as Let’s Fight, Ghost) follows the same story, but lacks the charm of the original. Looking back, I can credit a lot of why I enjoy the Korean series to the director, Park Joon-hwa, because I can see a lot of the same energy in one of his later works: my favourite Korean drama of 2022, Alchemy of Souls.
My Love From The Star (2013, and 2022 remake)
Also recently arriving on Amazon Prime is a Japanese story of romance with a literal otherworldly entity, an alien dwelling on Earth among humans. My Love From The Star is a remake of a classic Korean drama from 2013 (which is available on Netflix), which was hugely popular both inside and outside Korea. (In fact it’s one of the shows credited for making Korean dramas into an international brand.) It was created and written by Park Ji-eun (who also wrote 2019’s Crash Landing On You), and tells the tale of Do Min-joon (played by Kim Soo-hyun) who arrived on our planet four hundred years ago. His planned short visit was extended when he was caught up in a local tragedy after failing to save a young girl from death. As such he had to wait for a comet to return before he could hitch a ride and leave. With only three months left to go, he looks forward to leaving – until he realises that his new next door neighbour (played by Jun Ji-hyun) may be the reincarnation of the girl he couldn’t save. When scandal rocks her career and she is unwittingly caught up in a murderous plot, he is unable to prevent himself getting involved.
The Japanese remake follows the same overall plot as the original, though of course it moves the action to Tokyo and gives the characters new names. The alien is now Toyama Mitsuru, played by Fukushi Sota (best known for his role in the Kamen Rider franchise). The actress next door is now Sasahara Tsubaki, played by fashion model and star actress Yamamoto Mizuki. It wasn’t the only remake of the show – there was a Filipino one in 2017, though it isn’t currently available on streaming. The original show was massively popular in the Philippine, so it’s not surprising they remade it.
The main difference between the two versions is length. The original runs to twenty-one episodes of about an hour each. The Japanese remake is only ten episodes, each forty-five minutes long. This is both a strength and a weakness. It means that the pacing is much tighter, and the story meanders a little less. But it also means that some sub-plots get short shrift, and others get cut entirely. Ultimately which you prefer is very much a matter of taste, and though the remake has drawn a lot of fire from fans of the original I think it’s a lot better than they’re willing to admit. They are both good shows, though, and the original Korean version definitely does deserve its stellar reputation.
With that said, I still think Bring It On, Ghost! is my preferred of these two otherworldly romances. I’m glad it’s available again, and I hope it’s just the beginning of old favorites resurfacing. And if they do, I look forward to sharing my thoughts on them with you.
Images via IMDB.