[HanCinema's Film Review] "Dancing with Ghosts"

Dong-jae (played by Lee Kwan-hoon) is a male escort. We know this because "Dancing With Ghosts" has barely even begun when we're treated to several minutes of him having sex with a woman who appears to be undergoing the experience solely to see her own expression in the mirror. Dong-jae's existence isn't entirely unpleasant. He has financial security. Yet it feels awfully bleak, to the point that a chance encounter with Yoo-jin (played by Joo Min-ha) does wonders for his mood, in spite of the fact that she's a ghost.


While "Dancing With Ghosts" has some elegaic qualities, I'd rather not oversell them. First, because this is a low budget erotic movie, even if the sex is frontloaded and backloaded, no double entendre intended. And second, because Dong-jae and Yoo-jin spend entirely too much time getting on each other's nerves. I bristled at the scene where Yoo-jin attempts to sexually assault Dong-jae. That's really not funny.

Granted, the overall set-up is kind of funny. Yoo-jin is a virgin ghost, which is to say, that she desperately wants sex, having been denied this in her corporeal life. Yoo-jin becomes obsessed with Dong-jae mainly because she thinks he's probably good at it. But her backstory has definite layers. Yoo-jin died as a lonely adult, despite superficially being a beautiful model. It's tragic, yet not interesting. I bring this up to note that this is why Yoo-jin doesn't lead with this story. Yoo-jin lacks self-esteem.

The great irony of this is that for Dong-jae, Yoo-jin was an inspiring image at the darkest time of his life. Yes, the part of his life that was even worse than working as a gigolo. There's a surprisingly subtle subtext here about the unpleasantness of Hell Joseon, with our thirty-ish aged characters suffering from fundamentally unresolvable mental issues. They lack social lives, or even any way to make real friends. So Dong-jae persists in financial security, while Yoo-jin survives by hoping sex will magically save her.

Even the ending exemplifies this theme of bittersweet optimism wherever it can be found. Dong-jae is still an escort, and Yoo-jin is still dead, yet both have decided they're OK with that. There are large parts of "Dancing With Ghosts" that I didn't particularly like. Just on a technical level the sound isn't very good, and Director Baek clearly abuses poor lighting to hide the fact that the environments aren't particularly impressive.

But then again, that still works well to the larger point. Dong-jae lives in his nice apartment, with generally meaningless possessions, and his only real non-sexual interactions on a day-by-day basis are with his fortune teller. Call it love under capitalism, hopeless against material reality, yet hopeful all the same. Or you could just call "Dancing With Ghosts" what it is, a low budget erotic film. How any of this site's readers even heard about it I have no idea. As far as I know there's no English subtitled version.

Review by William Schwartz


"Dancing With Ghosts" is directed by Director Baek, and features Lee Kwan-hoon, Joo Min-ha, Jung Joo-ri, Yeon Hee, Hong Hae-sol, Geum Na-rang. Release date in Korea: 2018/11/23.