Oh My Ghostess: Episode 1
Ha! The first episode of Oh My Ghostess is mostly setup, and since a lot of the setup was previously provided to us in the promo rounds, you could say there aren’t too many narrative surprises. But the first episode still pulls out a quirky, interesting mix of humor and introspectiveness, with characters who stir immediate pathos. I’m enjoying the obvious cute appeal of the wacky premise—lusty ghost possesses timid girl and sparks romance with her crush—but it’s far more gratifying to see that the story (and this director and writer team) is full of poignancy, with heartfelt pangs to balance out the comic antics that are on their way.
SONG OF THE DAY
Sung Shi-kyung – “오 나의 여신님” (Oh my goddess). This is the song that plays in my head every time I think about this drama, with “ghostess” filling in for “goddess.” [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
It’s nighttime in Seoul, and our heroine walks sleepily down the street and passes an ambulance. We’ll meet her a bit later, and for now we follow the ambulance to the hospital, where the medics tend to yet another twentysomething young man found passed out in a club, body cold, just moments after being with a beautiful woman.
The doctors wonder if there’s a virus afoot, or maybe a drug making the rounds. The police are just as baffled, because there’s no connection between the ladies or the cases. One scoffs, “What’s going on? It’s hardly a ghost. Or… is it a ghost?”
Out on the street, a beautiful young woman watches an ambulance go by and whines that the makeout session was nice while it lasted, which wasn’t long enough. Then her body lurches as a spirit leaves her body, leaving the woman confused.
The ghost continues on her way, her form passing through everyone she contacts, flowers shriveling black in her wake. But then our sleepy heroine crosses the ghost’s path—she steps aside so as not to hit her, bowing apologetically before moving on.
The ghost wonders, “You… see me?”
Lunchtime in Seoul. A radio host comments on ways to beat the heat, one of which is to see a scary horror movie (for the chills). She says ghosts aren’t only found in abandoned houses wearing nightgowns, but may be among us in the everyday world…
A group of office employees head out to lunch, debating what to eat. Our friendly ghost, SHIN SOON-AE (Kim Seul-gi), clamors for Korean food, pouting when they walk through her and move on. In a huff, she hisses at a passing lady, who only feels the blast of cold air.
Soon-ae explains to us that she’s a maiden ghost, and dying a maiden felt so unfair that she wanders the earth rather than moving on. Soon-ae asks for a little understanding—she may be known as a cranky, lustful ghost, but she’s really a pitiful, lonely soul.
She notices a baby sitting in a stroller nearby gurgling happily at her—it can see her. Soon-ae coos at it playfully, calling him cute, then sees a basketball bouncing over from the nearby court straight for the child. She throws up a hand, and the ball bounces off it in the other direction. Even she looks surprised.
Moving on, we arrive at Sun Restaurant and meet some of the assistant cooks. No need to introduce everyone just yet, though there’s a tongue-in-cheek joke about baby-faced sous chef MIN-SOO being mistaken for a high schooler (actor Kang Ki-young was in this director’s last drama, High School King of Savvy).
The cooks smell something burning and rush outside, where the youngest of the assistant cooks, NA BONG-SUN (Park Bo-young), has dozed and let the sauce burn. Sous chef Min-soo seems to get a kick out of bossing all the assistants around and scolds Bong-sun like it’s his restaurant, but he sure shuts up fast when the real boss appears.
He’s KANG SUN-WOO (Jo Jung-seok), and he pulls aside both Bong-sun and Min-soo for a scolding: Bong-sun for her mistake, and Min-soo for leaving his sauce to her. Bong-sun ekes out a few mortified apologies, but Chef Sun-woo hardly even hears her, directing his comments solely at Min-soo. He won’t even look at her.
Despite the fresh scolding, Bong-sun keeps nodding off as she cleans the sauce pot and tries to keep herself awake. Just then a dark ghostly shadow floats by, and she seizes up in fear. She starts rattling off the Lord’s Prayer as a blackened hand lands on her shoulder, but thankfully it disappears. Bong-sun sighs in relief.
Her grandmother calls to ask if she’s sleeping well, and whether the ghosts are still bothering her. Bong-sun blinks back tears as she lies, saying that they’re not around much these days, and Grandma says it’s a relief—she doesn’t want Bong-sun to have to be a shaman like her.
Sun-woo has an easygoing relationship with his sister, EUN-HEE (Shin Hae-sun), who is wheelchair-bound and also works at the restaurant. She mentions that Sun-woo is oddly only tough on two women, and when he’s mean to Bong-sun, it makes her shrink back even more. Sun-woo grumbles that he just doesn’t like her, and wonders who the other woman is just as Mom steps inside the door and answers that question.
Sun-woo mumbles at Mom (Shin Eun-kyung) to not come by the restaurant; she seems like the well-meaning but super-nosy type. Also superstitious—she thrusts yet another talisman at him, insisting he take it to repel bad spirits, despite Sun-woo’s protests about not believing in ghosts.
At a funeral, Soon-ae joins a table of other ghosts as they partake of the food left out for the deceased. But she’s an outcast among them, and one snappish ghost takes swipes at Soon-ae for supposedly having amnesia and for mooching off other ghosts’ funeral food because she has none of her own. Furthermore, Soon-ae’s violating the rules by possessing people, and the higher-ups don’t like it.
The fight starts to escalate, but the arrival of an older woman makes the ghosts scatter, except Soon-ae who doesn’t notice in time. The woman is human, and although talking to a ghost makes the other people look at her like she’s crazy, ghost-seeing ajumma is too fixated on catching Soon-ae to care.
Soon-ae bolts out into the street and onto a bus, but the ghost-seeing ajumma follows doggedly until she loses Soon-ae in a crowd. That’s because Soon-ae spies a hiding place and hops into a young woman’s body.
That’s when Sun-woo arrives—this is the broadcast station and he’s meeting a PD friend—and as he brushes past Soon-ae’s host, Soon-ae gets knocked out of the body and can’t get back in. Ajumma grabs her and drags her away, never mind that she looks like a nut to everyone around them.
Ah, Sun-woo discovers his mother’s ghost-repelling talisman in his pocket, which he tosses away. He’s here because LEE SO-HYUNG (Park Jung-ah) is putting together a cooking competition program and wants Sun-woo to be on it, saying he can compete with his rival, Marco. Not tempted, Sun-woo turns her down.
The shaman drags Soon-ae home, chiding her for her possession-seduction antics and saying that she won’t find a man who can match his yang energy to her ghostly yin. Soon-ae says the shaman mentioned there might be such a man, and even if he’s one in a million, she has to try to find him—after she hits her three-year mark of being a ghost, she turns into a malevolent ghost. So, she has to resolve her lingering grudge and leave the earth before she turns.
The shaman tells her the way to do that is to come to terms with her resentments and move on. Worst yet, the shaman worries that Soon-ae will encounter a body whose frequency matches hers perfectly—and if she enters that host, she might get trapped inside. Soon-ae sees the shaman’s worried tears and says it’s nice to know that “unni” cares. And it’s nice to have someone to talk to.
Shaman Unni cries and hugs her in sympathy… and then pulls back cackling, because she snuck a bell necklace around Soon-ae’s neck. HA, it’s like a cat collar to keep track of her, though Unni’s the only one who can hear it or take it off.
It’s dinner service time at Sun Restaurant, where Sun-woo runs a tight ship. Service is bustling but controlled, everyone preparing pasta under his careful eye.
Shaman Unni tries to sit down to some prayers, but Soon-ae purposely dances around to make her bell collar ring extra-loud. Annoyed, Unni smacks her upside the head—and across town, Soon-ae’s yelp rings in Bong-sun’s ear.
After the restaurant closes, the assistant cooks prepare to head out, changing in the locker room and forcing Bong-sun to hang back until they’re done. Whiny sous chef Min-soo continues his constant complaining about the boss, grumbling that he treats his sister way better than any of them. The guys point out that she’s a special case, paralyzed by a hit and run, and Min-soo tactlessly says that at least God gave her a good brother and husband to make up for it.
That comment makes everyone shoot him looks, in particular the young Cordon Bleu-trained SEO JOON (Kwak Shi-yang), whom Min-soo dislikes for being uppity. (Though I suspect it’s more because Joon makes him insecure.)
As the boys file out, Joon pauses to tell Bong-sun she can come out now, having known she was waiting. Aw, he’s the silently thoughtful type. He’s going to make my heart hurt (again), isn’t he?
Bong-sun is the last to leave, and trudges home to a gosiwon, a barebones type of boardinghouse housing mostly students. The rooms are tiny and the kitchen is a shared space, so when she practices cooking late at night, a resident complains of the noise. She hangs her head and apologizes.
She cooks up a cabbage porridge and uploads photos and a recipe to a blog, where she explains Grandma cooking the soothing dish for her as a child.
At the restaurant, a shrill food blogger insists that Bong-sun reheat her dish, despite caution that it’ll ruin the noodles. She lets her boy run around unchecked, and when he runs into Bong-sun and makes her spill the hot food on herself, she screams at Bong-sun for being careless and almost burning her boy, never mind that Bong-sun’s hand is now burned.
Sun-woo steps in and chides the boy for running around, and when the mom flips out, he says pleasantly that just as she’s upset that he’s scolding her child, he’s upset that she’s scolding his employee. Then wheelchair-bound Eun-hee tries to calm the situation, and Blogger Mom snaps, “There’s nobody normal in this place.”
The place goes silent and everyone puts on their Oh no she di’n’t face, and the next thing you know Sun-woo is forcibly pushing her out his restaurant. Bong-sun keeps apologizing to the mother and to Sun-woo, and he tells her plainly that it’s this attitude he hates from her. She’s always apologizing regardless of wrongdoing, and taking the blame for everything doesn’t actually make her a nice person—it makes everyone else feel bad.
She apologizes again, and he sighs. The kitchen is a battleground, he says, and only the tough can stay in it. He advises her to rethink this career, rather than sticking around stubbornly and being a nuisance to others.
Little Sis Eun-hee says it’s not Bong-sun’s fault and being nice isn’t a crime, but Sun-woo retorts that it is. Then he gets a text message alerting him to a junior high school reunion, which he deletes.
A flashback to his teen years shows us why: Teenage Sun-woo is the nice guy, always getting pushed around by his peers. He arrives home to an empty house and a note from his mother to order takeout for his birthday dinner. Clearly he knows a lot about being the pushover, though that doesn’t make it any easier to be Bong-sun, who holds back tears and shrinks out of sight when Sun-woo passes.
At a small restaurant, a kindly police officer settles his bill before heading over to Sun Restaurant. He’s CHOI SUNG-JAE (Im Joo-hwan), Eun-hee’s doting husband and Sun-woo’s brother-in-law.
Sun-woo heads over to a new restaurant that’s being opened by a friend, and gives his stamp of approval on the food (though in a backhanded way, of course, since he’s the “god” and the others are mere mortals). He makes his friends groan with his spouting of platitudes, like how the plate doesn’t merely hold food, but also your face (reputation).
Bong-sun arrives home, and the first thing she does is light candles and incense to ward off spirits, though she immediately blows them out when her landlord drops by. But he’s had enough of her weirdness, which includes the crosses and talismans stuck to her walls, and tells her to move out.
Bong-sun pulls out her scrapbook and flips through the various recipes and stories pasted inside, a large number of them news articles of Sun-woo, which she’s decorated with hearts. Thinking of his advice to reconsider this career, she tears out a blank page and starts to write a note.
A sophisticated woman joins Sun-woo’s gathering, and her arrival makes him tense, though it sounds like they’re meeting for the first time. She’s a rich heiress and asks for him to cater a party for her, calling her friends his fans. Sun-woo accepts the compliment but declines the job and makes a hasty exit, and tells his friend not to be too friendly with her. He doesn’t explain, but his concern seems genuine.
Sun-woo’s excuse for leaving sounds like a date, but turns out to be a trip to the fish market, where he’s on great terms with all of the ajummas, charming them as he shops.
Bong-sun returns to the restaurant late that night with a letter in hand, which she leaves at the hostess stand—it must be her resignation. Sun-woo arrives just then with his fresh purchases, and she mumbles an incoherent explanation for why she’s here.
Sun-woo heads home, and the first thing he does as he settles in is google himself. LOL. He’s number 3 on the search engine lists, which he notes with disappointment—he’s dropped behind Marco, his chef rival. Sun-woo grumbles that Marco got bitten by the fame bug, posting pictures of himself with celebrities rather than relying purely on skill.
He clicks over to a different site—Bong-sun’s blog titled “You Are My Sunshine.” He likes the blogger’s motto (“The little happinesses in life, dreaming of a warm dinner table”) and approves of her cabbage dish, able to sense her love of cooking through the screen. He even writes a comment for “Sunshine-nim,” noting that her dishes taste of happiness: “I am your fan. Fighting!”
Bong-sun stands outside the restaurant, thinking her last goodbyes. She admits that Sun-woo was right, and that there’s a difference between the things you want to do and the things you can do. She adds one last thought that she couldn’t write in her letter: “I learned something thanks to you, Chef. People’s feelings are like a cold, so once they begin, no matter how hard you try not to be ill, you have to go through the pain until it ends.”
We see how Bong-sun was welcomed to the fold on her first day, and how her feelings gradually grew the more she saw of Sun-woo, whether he was helping her to chop vegetables or yelling for subpar work.
Her narration continues: “I wanted to become a chef like you. Thanks to you I felt butterflies, and thanks to you I was happy, and thanks to you I felt pain, and felt pain, and felt more pain. Now that I’ve been ill enough, I’m leaving. Sun was like a nest for me, and the world may shove me out again, but I’ll leave now. Goodbye, Chef.”
Bong-sun bows goodbye and walks away.
The assistants find her letter in the morning, and Sun-woo sighs that she probably didn’t have it in her to say her goodbyes in person. But a more pressing concern arises: They realize she probably accidentally took a storage key that has disappeared. She’s not picking up her phone, it’ll take time to get a replacement made, and they’re set to open soon. Sun-woo tells them to keep calling her while they figure out a workaround.
Bong-sun is out looking for a new place to live, glumly realizing they’re all too expensive. She doesn’t answer the cook’s call, likely thinking it’s to ask about her quitting. Suddenly she hears a voice ringing loudly in her ear, and she clutches her aching head.
It’s our lonely ghost Soon-ae, stuck inside the shaman’s house, wailing, “I’m booooooooooored!” She whines to be let go and promises to live quietly, but concedes to the shaman unni that she wouldn’t believe her own words either. But when a food deliveryman arrives, the unni is distracted for a second before realizing the ghost has bolted.
The shaman chases Soon-ae through the streets, and Soon-ae pauses at the bus stop and spies a likely host. It’s Bong-sun, sleepy as usual, and she glows extra-brightly in Soon-ae’s eyes. Soon-ae jumps inside.
Now in possession of the body, Soon-ae tries to look as innocent as possible when shaman unni runs by—and just her luck, that’s when assistant cook Joon spots her while riding by on his motorcycle. He orders her to get on, and they zoom off together.
Soon-ae is totally confused as Joon pulls her inside the restaurant, and she blinks up at the frazzled staff. Sun-woo holds out his hand for the key, and without any other clues, Soon-ae just shakes the hand, saying in banmal, “Glad to meet you.”
Impatiently, he demands the key, and when she makes no move, he starts to pat her down for it. Soon-ae reacts swiftly—twisting his arms and throwing him to the ground.
Just because Oh My Ghostess sounded like a winner on paper doesn’t mean it would be, so I was tempering my expectations of the drama in case the ingredients (proven PD-writer team, great actors, hilarious plot) somehow didn’t meld together the right way. And the first episode did turn out slightly different from what I’d anticipated, by being less zany and a little more moody. I do expect that to pick up swiftly now that the body-possession has happened, and just looking at the previews for the next episode has me jealous of all the hilarity girlfriday gets to cover.
But the moodiness isn’t a turn-off, because it allowed us to get right in our characters’ hearts—we only have the barest glimpses of who they are yet, but the drama gave us that hook into the three main characters and what makes them sympathetic, even pity-stirring, characters. Particularly the ghost Soon-ae, who could easily have been played only for comedy, especially when you have Kim Seul-gi being a riot.
I love that Kim doesn’t play Soon-ae as just the boy-crazy wild card; she makes Soon-ae lonely and aimless, seeking roots that she can’t find because, for whatever inexplicable reason, she doesn’t even know who she is. What’s more tragic than a ghost doomed to wander the earth because of an unresolved grudge? A ghost who doesn’t even know what her unresolved grudge is.
The description of Bong-sun had me a bit worried, because as we’ve seen with so many dramaland heroines and Candys, doormats are no fun. Especially the “good” ones who suffer quietly, enduring rather than pushing back or asserting themselves. They’re often frustrating, or worse, dramatically boring. So I like that Bong-sun feels sympathetic but not aggravating; it probably helps that her timidity is presented as her biggest flaw rather than a noble virtue. She also feels like a complete person with a fully fleshed-out inner life, making it all the more poignant that she can’t express any of that outwardly.
It’s interesting to see how Sun-woo is actually presented as similar to Bong-sun, and the reason he feels such antipathy is because he identifies too much with her. It’s frustrating for him to watch her hang her head and shuffle by, because he knows what that feels like but he can’t force her to change. It gives me hope for the connection to grow between them, because I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about a guy falling for a girl when she starts pursuing him, if previously he barely ever acknowledged her. But it was sweet that he could see her come out in her recipe and her writing, and that he liked the part of her she can’t express when she’s there in person. It gives me hope that he would like her even without the ghostly kickstart, if only she could find a way to be her real self around him.
I’m curious to see how the drama will play out the possession, because if Soon-ae remains in the host body, how will we get to connect with Bong-sun? Perhaps there are rules limiting how much time she can spend in the body, or periodic separations between the two? The show has established that there’s a certain bond between them—their “frequencies” aligning perfectly—but I do also want to see them developing side-by-side. What stirs me the most is that these are lonely souls, Sun-woo included, and really all anybody wants is a feeling of connection. That the possession comes with comic shenanigans is just icing on the cake.
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