Cinematic representations of the spirit, or soul, within the romance genre are often life-affirming portrayals of the power of love transcending the physical realm. As the titular phantom in Ghost (1990), Patrick Swayze won the hearts of audiences as a guardian spirit seemingly proving that if love is strong and true it is ‘taken with you’ into the afterlife. In Just Like Heaven (2005), Reese Witherspoon’s spirit left her comatose body and found romance with the man living in her house, emphasising the link between body and soul and the healing power of love.
Humming (허밍), which sees unappreciated comatose girlfriend Mi-yeon returning as a spirit, is director Park Dae-yeong’s attempt at capturing the magic and charm offered by such a premise. The result is an incredibly bland offering with awful dialogue and under-developed characterisation, which gradually gets better in building to a romantic climax.
Jun-seo (Lee Cheon-hee (이천희) is a hardworking scientist who dislikes sports and exercising. Despite this he is routinely dragged to events including diving and rock climbing by his long-term girlfriend Mi-yeon. Her zest for life and trying new things, as well as providing an abundance of affection and romance, makes Jun-seo the envy of other men yet he feels tired by the relationship and begins seeking a way out – namely the one year work placement which is located in the South Pole. Despite this Mi-yeon claims she will wait for him, but on the way to meet him she is the victim of a traffic accident and falls into a coma. Her spirit however continues to meet Jun-seo, and as he gathers his memories of their relationship he begins to remember the love that first brought them together.
Humming begins well, as Mi-yeon’s caring and affectionate personality is at odds with Jun-seo’s indifference and reluctance to try new things. Mi-yeon is clearly 100% committed to the relationship, providing incredibly charming and romantic scenes such as leaving a treasure hunt of love letters around Jun-seo’s apartment; Jun-seo, on the other hand, disregards them as an irritation and compounds his boredom with their partnership. Problems quickly rise however as these scenes extend for far too long and become tiresome, making Mi-yeon an almost tragic character due to her naivety while Jun-seo moves from a man tired of his relationship to being nasty and cowardly. As such, Mi-yeon’s accident – terribly filmed by director Park Dae-yeong – is a welcome change of pace rather than a dramatic and unsettling event. The premise of Mi-yeon’s spirit visiting her boyfriend is a wonderfully romantic concept, yet in truth this happens scarcely and does incredibly little to further the narrative. Instead, time is devoted to Jun-seo who, due to earlier scenes, is quite unlikeable and uncompelling as he pieces together memories of how their love initially developed. Again the potential is sound, yet rather than a series of short flashbacks intertwined with contemporary self-discovery, Park Dae-yeong opts to allow the nostalgic sequences to engulf the entire film and as such overshadow the events of the present. The precarious situation of comatose Mi-yeon is therefore undermined as the early stages of the relationship are portrayed, and despite the desperate attempts to convey the sincerity and purity of the blossoming romance they are unconvincing, dull and predictable. Humming is very much a bland, TV movie-style affair.
In terms of performance Han Ji-hye is highly charismatic as love-struck Mi-yeon, lighting up the screen whenever she appears. However the actress is generally required to be happy, smiling and romantic and the underdevelopment is such that she is not stretched into any dramatic territory. The same cannot be said for Lee Cheon-hee who has several dramatic scenes, particularly as time begins to run out for the couple, and his performance is generally competent.
The main problem is the absence of character development. While the similarly themed but by no means perfect Just Like Heaven also featured the spirit of a comatose woman, it succeeded in portraying how the central couple evolved and developed together through both comedic and dramatic events. In Humming such sensibilities are noticeably absent and as such Jun-seo and Mi-yeon are not an engaging couple for audiences to root for.
Humming – an interesting title considering ‘humming’ never features – has a premise full of potential for romance through the spiritual connections and nostalgic notions of a love long forgotten. Yet the film never gets close to fulfilling such promise due to the unbalanced narrative structure and incredibly underdeveloped characters that ultimately make for a bland and predictable viewing experience. In the lead up to the cliched finale, Humming does become more engaging yet it is too little too late for what is essentially a TV film.