“You’ll need insurance to date me,” warns Yu-ri (Son Ye-jin) to a prospective boyfriend in “Spellbound.” And brother, she isn’t soft-pedaling the scenario. Yu-ri not only sees dead people, but the not-so-dearly departed tag along on her dates, which, as far as romantic-comedy barriers go, stands as a pretty tall obstacle for even the most earnest of suitors to scale.
“Spellbound,” which opened earlier this month to outrageous business in its native Korea, aims to send up — and freshen up — the rom-com genre by adding a little horror to the mix. Although much of the film’s broad humor at times makes it feel like an unwanted mash-up of “Scary Movie” and “Date Movie,” writer-director Hwang In-ho invests the material with enough clever scenarios to keep it engaging.
Take the meet-cute: Street magician Jo-gu (Lee Min-ki) spies the dark, secretive Yu-ri during his act and sees not love but a business opportunity. Soon after hiring Yu-ri as his assistant, Jo-gu finds himself wildly successful. But as Yu-ri tells him, not long after calling him a “pork rind” (something tells us this might be an imprecise translation), Jo-gu lacks a heart.
Yu-ri might be just the girl to fuel Jo-gu’s passion. Unfortunately, she’s afraid to get close to anyone since proximity prompts visits from spirits of the non-alcoholic variety. On the horror side, Hwang has a few too many ideas in play. Yu-ri initially sees dead people in trouble, helping solve crimes and rescue loved ones. Wisely, Hwang eventually hones in on one particular spirit, the ghost who initiated Yu-ri’s unwanted career as a medium.
Though “Spellbound” trades mostly in silliness, a few of the horror jump-cuts pack a punch. The best moments, though, combine the two, as when Yu-ri says, “I’ve been dying to do something with a boyfriend.” The destination is not a beach at sunset, but a basement where she’s been hearing noises.
“Spellbound.” No MPAA rating. In Korean with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes. At CGV Cinemas, Los Angeles.