November 16, 2015

Wonderful Nightmare: Tragicomedy Is a Rollercoaster

One thing I've noticed about Korean comedies: They can get decidedly unfunny at the drop of a hat. So watching Kang Hyo-jin's soul-swapping farce Wonderful Nightmare, you shouldn't be surprised to find yourself getting jerked around emotionally quite a bit in between the slapstick and the absurdisties. You may start off chuckling as a heartless, greedy, sexless if stylish attorney (Eom Jeong-hwa) is reincarnated as a fashion-challenged, middle-class mother of two with a frisky husband (Song Seung-heon) but eventually you're going to be freaking out as her newfound daughter (Seo Shin-ae) is about to get gang-banged by her fellow classmates (who also plan on filming the attack) and then be freaking out again when her sweet-natured son (Jeong Ji-hoon) is diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease that can only be cured by his mother's untimely death. Who knew suicide was a form of medication? Intellectually, we may understand that the potential rape and the impending blindness are throwbacks to earlier ideas/transgressions in the story but man, can this penance all seem unnecessarily harsh. Purgatory is a bitch!

What's perhaps even more disorienting — disconcerting? — is how even after these flippant forays into tragedy, the movie is able to bounce back into farce so unconcernedly, so glibly, so assuredly that you'll find yourself guiltily cracking up at the purgatorial antics bunglingly overseen by a middle-management angel (Kim Sang-ho) who's got sins of his own to expiate. The manufactured rom-com ending has more holes in it than a slice of Swiss cheese but much of the narrative is so cheesy to start with that it seems silly to question the "happily ever after" the movie is pretending the characters can achieve. When you watch Wonderful Nightmare, cheese will be served continually and you will eat it. Even when it stinks.

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