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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Grand Prix (Geu-rang-peu-ri) 2010

Like a great many other males of this earth, I am frequently seized with an insuppressible feeling of revulsion when faced with the prospect of sitting down to watch a romance film. Gender bias aside, I do not think that this feeling is unwarranted. Given the quality in recent years of the romance genre across the globe, there is very little reason for any person, let alone men, to waste their time with the products on offer. It used to be that romance films were among the best examples of cinema for any given period in time. Silent cinema produced some gems including F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise (1927), but it was in the 30s and 40s that Hollywood really embraced romance. Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934), Fleming’s Gone With the Wind (1939), Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story (1940), Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942), Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945), and so many more are all considered to be classics. Indeed even beyond that period and also across the globe, cinema produced magnificent, heartrending, devastating, and brilliant romantic films. I can’t say exactly when it started but at a certain point the beauty, poignancy, lyricism, wit, and levity began to disappear from the genre and what we have today is for the most part a collection of the most astoundingly crass, classless, corporate, consumerized, and commercialized examples of shockingly sexist, hollow, and demeaning drivel. Harsh words but rarely so justly deserved.

Kim Tae-hee's sadface
There are still some great examples, The Notebook (2004) and (500) Days of Summer (2009) among others, represent some of the most worthwhile examples of classical and progressive approaches to the genre. Sadly these are few and far between. For this reason, and innumerable others as you well known by this point, many of us have been drawn to Korean cinema. I am not allergic to romance films because I am a man, I am simply offended by them because I consider myself to be a discerning (and sadly very cynical) film lover. To my shock and wonderful surprise, aside from the great Asia Extreme films that were the introduction for many of us to Korean cinema, I discovered this far eastern Asian cinema was equally adept at making timeless love stories. The first I came across and to date still the most popular export in the genre was My Sassy Girl (2001), a fresh, zany, hilarious, and touching romantic comedy that had the ability to appeal to many demographics. Beyond that there are many romantic Korean films that have moved us, including: Il Mare (2000), The Classic (2003), A Moment to Remember (2004), Someone Special (2004), My Little Bride (2004), and A Millionaire’s First Love (2006), to name but a few.

This is why, unlike anything that comes out of Hollywood, I will give any Korean romance a chance. With this spirit I thought that I would give Grand Prix a chance, a racetrack-themed love story starring the beautiful Kim Tae-hee. Now I know that not every Korean film is going to worthwhile, especially as romance is concerned, but I must say that I was quite taken aback at how truly abysmal this film was. Cloying, saccharine, insincere, vapid, and lacking any finesse and skill, Grand Prix is a film that attempts to be as manipulative as it possibly can and as bad as that sounds, the fact that it is so poorly made and in no way comes anywhere close to affecting us with its confounded opportunism sticks it right at the bottom of the pile.

World's most irritating child
Kim Tae-hee plays a jockey who falls during her race and her horse, who has broken its leg, is put down in front of her. She is so distraught by the experience that she do the only thing she can do and that is to give up her profession and wear pretty clothes while traipsing around the prairies of Jeju island and looking wistfully and longingly at the scenery and other horses. On her travels, or rather the first thing that happens when she steps off the boat, she meets another jockey (Kang Dong-geun) who is a guy she will fall in love with for reasons unknown and is riding the horse that she will ultimately compete with in the Grand Prix of the title. What else happens, let me see there’s a local equestrian center and some old people who are mean to one another because of some longwinded and laughably dark backstory, a frequently topless male model who is just there for no ostensible reason, and the world’s most irritating, uncute, and strangle-worthy child. If these elements can’t combine into a surefire hit then I don’t know what can!

Grand Prix is one of those films that is masterful and awe-inspiring in its complete and all-encompassing ineptitude. There is not one thing that works in this film. The cast: Kim Tae-hee is pretty but can’t really act, she is also the last person I would chose to cast as a jockey; Yang Dong-geun (a replacement for Lee Jun-ki who dropped out to do military service a month into filming) is irritating and a terrible romantic lead; I’ve already mentioned the kid who I would have little reservations dropping off of a cliff; and all the other inconsequential supporting characters are either annoying, dull, or vacuous. The plot is hackneyed, patched together with an odd array of multi-colored and ill-fitting bandaids, and replete with soulless, melodramatic backstories. The production values are okay but there are some real problems with respect to the sound and editing.

The insufferable Yang Dong-geun
It was very difficult to watch this all the way through to the end and despite being stubbornly democratic in my viewing tastes for Korean cinema, especially as I undertake my 2010 film project, I daresay I regret wasting my time with it. There are many far superior mediocre films that deserve your squandered leisure time over this. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

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