Movie review: Hartono well cast as object of female lust in zombie-ghost flick

Nathan Hartono (right, with Ferlyn G) does the standard zombie stiff-armed shuffle, as well as Magic Mike-style male stripper scenes.
Nathan Hartono (right, with Ferlyn G) does the standard zombie stiff-armed shuffle, as well as Magic Mike-style male stripper scenes.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

REVIEW / ROMANTIC COMEDY

WHEN GHOST MEETS ZOMBIE (PG13)

107 minutes/Opens today/3 stars

The story: Some time in the past, a tsunami threatens a Thai village and a group of men saves everyone, at the cost of their own lives. In the present day, some Singapore beauty pageant contestants visit the statues of the heroes. Zhen Zhen (Ferlyn G) suspects something is amiss with the statue of Pong (Nathan Hartono) and, when an accident causes her to lose her life, she discovers that he is a corpse, reanimated.

It is a clever premise for a body-swop romance as described by director and co-writer Han Yew Kwang - a man without a soul is possessed by a woman who is a soul without a body.

But everything, as they say, hinges on execution. That promising premise has been, pardon the pun, fleshed out into a film with a lot in common with the zombie played by musician-turned-actor Hartono.

It moves stiffly, wanders about searching for direction and falls flat often. But the film is saved by funny scenes that exploit something other than Mediacorp star cameos or catchphrases for punchlines.

After an over-stuffed prelude, the story moves from Thailand to Singapore. Here, it emerges that Zhen Zhen is a ghost because of unfinished business. Because she cannot move objects, manipulating the corpse of the former Pong like a mecha suit comes in handy.

Hartono makes his leading-man debut in a role where he does the standard zombie stiff-armed shuffle, with some dancing thrown in. He is also the object of female lust in a couple of Magic Mike-style (2012) male stripper scenes and, in that regard, he is well cast.

Along the way, Zhen Zhen finds that what she wants is not what she needs. These needs have to do with her relationship with her mother (Fann Wong) and her friends Bai Bai, a mortuary cosmetologist (Jesseca Liu), and Lai Lai, a fitness instructor (Jeremy Chan).

The villain is a Taoist priest and demon slayer played by Gurmit Singh, who exhibits a precise sense of physical comedy. Determined to destroy Pong, he makes exorcism attacks out of the blue. Singh's priest is no simple buffoon, but a sympathetic character, a man trying to clean up a mistake.

Director Han has built a reputation on accessible independent comedies (18 Grams Of Love, 2007; Rubbers, 2014), which tend to be character-driven, not joke-driven. He prefers to make a few strong moments of humour work rather than crack an endless slew of weak jokes.

Here, in what might be his most commercial project yet, he has opted to play it safe.

The weirdness of the gender body-swop is ignored, for example, so there are no bits about a woman discovering the awkwardness of male protuberances or the psychological toll such a change might exact on her mind.

Han is guilty of inserting crowd-pleasing bits and cameos that distract from the main couple-in-love thread, but his attention to detail and love of the genre is, thankfully, still intact.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2019, with the headline 'Hartono well cast as object of female lust'. Print Edition | Subscribe