Let’s Fight Ghost: The Afterlife Leading the Living
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A modern tale about ghosts and exorcists, Let’s Fight Ghost (2016) follows the quintessential hero’s journey to understand the human condition and its relation to life. While the South Korean TV series makes it clear that Buddhism is the religion in focus, the show displays universal themes present in other cultures. Let’s Fight Ghost explores the concepts of death, afterlife, and spirits to prompt viewers to contemplate their beliefs on the meaning of life.
Park Bong Pal (Ok Taec Yeon), who is able to see ghosts because of an encounter with an evil spirit in his youth, meets Kim Hyun Ji (Kim So Hyun), a young female ghost who is stuck wandering this world instead of moving on to another. With her experience as a ghost, Hyun Ji partners up with Bong Pal and guides him through the world of ghosts.
When Bong Pal interacts with Hyun Ji, and other ghosts, it is as if he is interacting with death. He has a connection to the afterworld. His ability to see the dead puts him in danger of death itself, which is personified by an evil spirit who uses man as a vessel to anthropomorphize himself into the living world. The evil spirit wants to kill Bong Pal because he has the ability to eliminate him. This is reminiscent of The Seventh Seal (1957) wherein Death (Bengt Ekerot) is physically characterized as a man who plagues medieval Scandinavia.
The central character in Ingmar Bergman’s iconic film, Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) comes across the anthropomorphic version of death, hoping to defeat his opponent by playing a game of chess. Antonius is in a transitional stage between life and death; he is supposed to die but resists Death’s plans because he has unresolved feelings about life. In Let’s Fight Ghost, Hyung Ji similarly tries to cheat death when she finds her human body. She succeeds when she awakes from a coma induced by the evil spirit who placed her in a state between life and death. Her associations to both the living and the afterworld serve as an example that it is possible for individuals to change their actions and, consequently, change their fates.
Hyung Ji’s own determination to cheat death also extends to the other souls who are trapped in the living world. The ghosts are physically dead, but they still spiritually reside among the living. Stuck in this limbo state, the ghosts still identify with their past humanity, often to their own detriment. They possess the same attitudes and behaviors they had when they were alive, which contributes to their unresolved feelings, preventing them from moving on and accepting death.
Bong Pal’s ability to see ghosts allows him to transcend the living world and connect with the dead to help change the limbo ghosts’ fates. With the evil ghosts, Bong Pal uses a form of contrapasso (the ironic second deaths in Dante’s Inferno) by simply exorcizing the ghosts from this world, killing them in the same way they originally died. As for the helpless ghosts, they need emotional support to come to terms with their situation and find closure. They must learn to forgive, and come to terms with their own, and others’, past shortcomings. The ghosts then become a boon to the others who are still living, projecting peace and good fortune.
However, the young exorcist struggles with his own power to see ghosts, which stems from an unresolved issue from his past. Bong Pal’s encounter with the evil spirit when he was young creates a connection in the present which continues to link him with the evil spirit. This connection represents the conflict between good and evil that he relives when he exorcises ghosts.
Bong Pal’s internal conflict is reminiscent of Father Damien Karras’ (Jason Miller) experience in in The Exorcist (1970). As a man of God, Father Karras struggles with his religious identity. Regan’s (Linda Blair) demonic possession raises questions he must answer to understand his conflicting thoughts about his faith. As both a human and evil spirit, Regan personifies Father Karras’ internal conflicts; he has to exorcise her to redeem himself.
Bong Pal faces his own evil spirit in a battle to resolve his uncertain views of the afterworld and ghosts. In this final conflict, he is momentarily defeated and left unconscious, but he wakes up and fulfills his destiny by defeating the evil spirit. This signifies a rebirth in his way of being, allowing him to transcend yet again with a new found drive to exorcise the evil spirit from this world. Heroes like Bong Pal use their abilities to save others from evil. As Antonius and Father Karras renounced their fears and uncertainties in order to sacrifice themselves for innocent lives, Bong Pal abandons his past resentment and commits himself to helping ghosts move on to the next world.
Let’s Fight Ghost creates a quasi-underworld within the living world. In this setting, the ghosts are shown with human qualities, so the viewer empathizes with them. The spirits’ unresolved feelings about their lives while they are in the afterlife mirror humans’ uncertain thoughts about death, afterlife, and spirits in our world. Ghosts come in contact with death but try to cheat it by clinging on to mortal matters, neglecting their fate in the afterlife. The viewer learns that Bong Pal and the other ghosts who wander among the living have a latent ability to change their fates. Let’s Fight Ghost’s interpretation of death and afterlife reveals that individuals can change outcomes by facing their internal conflicts and resolving conflicting feelings.
Michelle Bedolla is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University.