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Monday, August 4, 2014

PiFan 2014 Review: MY ORDINARY LOVE STORY Is Not Your Ordinary Rom-Com


By Pierce Conran

Expectations play a large role in how we consume and react to cinema, particularly in the commercial realm. Genre formulas are so clearcut than any deviation is immediately noticeable. Some variation is required to prevent things from getting stale but anything too jarring and you run the risk of alienating your audience. The new Korean romcom (or is it?) My Ordinary Love Story takes such a risk as it veers way off course, but this is one gamble that pays off in spades.

Eun-jin has been unlucky in love throughout her life and just as she is about to give up, she meets the bumbling but sweet Hyeon-suk. Things go well between them, but not long after their engagement she begins to suspect that he hasn't been entirely honest with her. She decides to find out what he's been up to and ropes her best friend into her amateur investigation. However, she could never have imagined the secret she is about to uncover.


Romantic comedies aren't the biggest money spinners out there but seeing as they are cheap to produce, quick to make and generally go down well with their intended demographic (women in their 20s and 30s), they're a less risky bet than most. While not often equated with quality cinema Korea has had a surprisingly good run with the genre, both in terms in critical and commercial acclaim. My Ordinary Love Story joins the ranks of recent favorites Spellbound (2011) and All About My Wife (2012) as another Korean romcom that both has heart and tries something a little different. It doesn't hurt that it's also very funny.

A little past the halfway point, My Ordinary Love Story switches from being just that, a typical but very well executed and performed cutesy romance, into something completely different. I don't want to spoil the surprise but I can say that the change is very smooth and makes the film even more fun that it already was. Korean cinema is known for its abrupt changes of mood but this is one of the more successfully maneuvered u-turns in recent years. Director Lee Gwon hasn't made a film since his 2007 debut Attack on the Pin-up Boys but he clearly has well-tuned commercial sensibilities and a keen understanding of how genre works.

With any romcom casting is key and this is where My Ordinary Love Story scores its biggest points. Song Sae-byeok has played these buffoonish characters before, notably in the smash hit Clash of the Families (2011), so he's in very familiar territory, at least initially. His lanky awkwardness, oblivious stubbornness and uniquely nasal voice have made him an ideal candidate for comedy roles. Earlier this year however, he turned a lot of heads with a magnetic and gritty performance as the antagonist in A Girl at My Door. 2014 may well prove to be the year that he breaks out beyond his comfortable stereotype as My Ordinary Love Story takes his on screen persona and pushes it in a very surprising direction, one that Song ably handles.


But the real star, both in terms of screen time and impact, is the riotous Gang Ye-won. Gang has always had a knack for comedy but roles such as Quick (2011) and The Huntresses haven't given her a chance to show off her wonderful ability to make people laugh. As a modern woman going on 30 in Korea, Gang's character here has experienced the unique challenges presented by the dating scene in Korea and is also under a lot of pressure to get married. Many Koreans would be able to empathize with these traits alone but by a combination of her earnestness and terrific comic timing, Gang takes things to a higher plain. It's almost impossible not to root for her character.

Though it seemed a little suspicious when first announced, My Ordinary Love Story turned out to be the ideal closing film of the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (PiFan). With charm, wit and clever twists, not to mention a terrific pair of leads, this is a romcom with a difference and offers something for everyone.



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