Korean cinema has something of a love affair with partnering a mad-cap group of disparate individuals, who are given the unenviable task of bringing the corrupt elite to justice. The repetition of such a narrative framework is undoubtedly ideologically founded, yet the translation of the sense of ‘Han’ within the team dynamic is often hit-and-miss. For every The Host (괴물) is a Once Upon a Time (원스 어폰 어 타임); for every Take Off (국가대표) is a Sector 7 (7광구).
Writer/director Wu Seon-ho’s (우선호) foray into the arena is more comically-macabre in nature as an exploited group of individuals attempt to ransom a corpse. As such Over My Dead Body (시체가 돌아왔다) provides a distinctly fresh approach to the concept yet never manages to fully capitialise on the premise, instead falling back on the tried-and-tested format – and cliches – of its forebearers. Luckily the addition of Ryoo Seung-beom (류승범), who is a charismatic delight throughout, singlehandedly elevates Over My Dead Body out of mediocrity.
Protesting against the unscrupulous CEO of a technology firm, engineer Baek Hyeon-cheol (Lee Beom-soo (이범수) and his mentor throw eggs and chant slogans in the belief that the specialist microchip they have developed is being sold abroad. They are indeed correct, as the CEO has been faking an illness and has implanted the microchip within himself in a bid to smuggle the technology into America for a large profit. Yet through their persistance Hyeon-cheol and his senior reveal the fraud to the country, and in retaliation the mentor is brutally inured. Swearing revenge for the crimes against her father, Han Dong-hwa (Kim Ok-bin (김옥빈) enlists the help of ever-reluctant Hyeon-cheol. However, with the shocking news of the CEO’s death the duo hatch a plan to steal the corpse and hold it to ransom – unwittingly stealing the microchip in the process. Yet when the corpse suddenly awakens to reveal conman Ahn Jin-oh (Ryoo Seung-beom (류승범), the trio must begrudgingly combine their skills in order to walk away with the money – and their lives.
Over My Dead Body begins in a fun but rather odd science-fiction fashion as Hyeon-cheol chases down a corrupt CEO who deals with advanced microchips and lasers. The premise of the film is then quickly set up, as Dong-hwa and Hyeon-cheol – who transforms from science-nerd to attractive middle-aged man in a matter of minutes – go about planning to steal the titular corpse. The duo’s theft is humorous and entertaining, as they fumble their way through security measures and unforeseen circumstances in a bid to complete their mission. The resulting getaway is also highly enjoyable, with Jin-oh’s awakening corpse routine a real highlight of the film.
It’s at this stage that Over My Dead Body seemingly runs out of ideas as a slew of underdeveloped characters are introduced that do little to continue the promising momentum of the first act. These stock characters are all stereotypical in nature, including the unintelligent gangster duo, bumbling National Intelligence Agency officers, and a host of security personal led by a nefarious kingpin. The narrative desperately attempts to juggle everyone and give them adequate relevance, but there are far too many and the story becomes bogged down as the central protagonists move from one set piece to the next. The decision to include such stereotypes also opens up a variety of cliched and predictable scenarios, some of which are humorous while others tend to fall flat, making the narrative lack compulsion with yet another case of mistaken identity and/or betrayal. By including so many narrative threads the central cast suffer from lack of development, particularly Kim Ok-bin (김옥빈) whose talents are vastly under-utilized as she exists merely as ‘the sexy punk girl/love interest.’
Luckily Over My Dead Body is consistently rejuvenated whenever Jin-oh (Ryoo Seung-beom (류승범) appears, as his mixture of whacky antics, deviousness and over-acting are highly comical and drag the narrative out of any slumps that occur. Thanks to his wise inclusion the film never sinks into blandness, and makes the narrative much more compelling to see through to its conclusion.
Lee Beom-soo is an interesting choice as science nerd Hyeon-cheol, and delivers a competent and likable performance. While he – as with his compatriots – suffers from lack of character development, Lee Beom-soo conducts himself as an intelligent ‘every-man’ well. The director’s decisions in regards to costume make it difficult to convey the character, as he strangely moves from geek to office worker to university student, a feature which is also reflected in his personality as it undergoes dramatic shifts from shy to intelligent to aggressive.
Kim Ok-bin is generally employed as a sexy love interest in playing Dong-hwa, and aside from inspiring the heist is incredibly undervalued. The actress plays the role of the strong, stubborn punk well yet there are few scenes in which her character is allowed to convey more, with her pink hair and cell phone charms the only indicators to greater depth. An effort is made to connect her with her sick father, yet such sparse time is dedicated it barely registers.
Ryoo Seung-beom is seemingly the only actor who understands the tongue-in-cheek farcical nature of the narrative, and over-acts in each scene with wonderful charisma. Yet throughout his performance he also keeps the audience guessing as to whether Jin-oh is a hyper-intelligent fraudster or genuinely mentally unstable, making him a comical and entertaining protagonist within each scene. Again, little depth is ascribed to Jin-oh yet his presence and hyperactivity circumvents criticism in this regard as the film is elevated largely due to him.
Over My Dead Body offers an interesting and comically-macabre spin on the crime heist sub-genre, and often succeeds in being entertaining throughout due to the premise. Yet the film largely falls into cliche and predictability following the first act due to the reliance upon an array of stock characters and a lack of inventiveness. However Ryoo Seung-beom’s presence consistently raises the film, and fans of the actor will not be disappointed as Over My Dead Body is an enjoyable film largely thanks to him.