Showing posts with label romcom. Show all posts
Showing posts with label romcom. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Jeonju 2018 Review: HELLO DAYOUNG, Korean Comedy Goes Full Chaplin

By Pierce Conran

For the third year on the trot, and after already receiving two prizes, director Ko Bong-soo returns to the Jeonju International Film Festival with his third work, Hello Dayoung. Largely working with the same troupe of actors, who are taking turns in the lead roles of his films, Ko's latest maintains the comic bent and sweetness of his prior works but this loving homage to silent comedy ditches his unique colloquial dialogue. Shot in black and white and sped up to achieve the accelerated frame rate of the silent era, this 62-minute romantic comedy is all heart but doesn't always work as a feature.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review: PLAN MAN Takes A Few Wrong Turns

By Pierce Conran

The 2014 commercial Korean film calendar kicked off with Plan Man, a light and colorful romantic comedy that carries on in a straightforward manner with plenty of humor until a second half that squeezes in some subtle commentary on the regimented lifestyle of working Korean citizens.

Jung-seok is a librarian with a case of obsessive compulsive disorder. He gets up at the same time every day and plans the rest of his life down to the minute, to the point where he even catches the same street light just as it turns green on his way to work in the morning. He falls for a convenience store attendant who exhibits similar tendencies but when she professes a desire for someone who can challenge her nervous tendency to keep everything in its place, he decides to shake up the strict order in his life to steal her heart. He does so with the help of So-jung, a singer-songwriter who is his exact opposite. Though it's someone just like him who first caught his eye, perhaps he will discover that opposites do indeed attract.

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.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Review: This Very Ordinary Couple Aims to Show You What's What

Grand romance, as depicted on screen, written on the page or sung into a microphone, is the stuff of dreams. We crave it and feel it vicariously through surrogate works. It happens in life too but scarcely as magnificently as we imagine it in our minds. Romcoms spoil us in a way, they invite us to expect something that doesn't exist, at least in a form as ideal as that which is represented in these films.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

PiFan 2013 - Before Sundown: Sunshine Love (2013)

Arrested development has been a very prescient theme in Western media. The man-child, geek, otaku; no matter what you call it we are living in an age where the lines between childhood and adult responsibilities have blurred. For the character of Gil-ho (Oh Jeong-se) in Jo Eun-sung’s debut feature Sunshine Love (2013), his protracted immaturity is not because of some addiction to a fantasy world, though the film is interspersed with several fantasy kung-fu sequences. No, what cripples Gil-ho is what cripples most twenty-somethings, a sense of dread as our expectations for the life we are supposed to live clashe with the reality of our situation. In the case of Gil-ho, the moment we first meet him we learn two important things about him. First, he desperately wants a position as a government bureaucrat. And second, he has failed the government exam several times already. Though an obvious change in career should be the next step for Gil-ho he seems too stubborn for this epiphany and continues on with his quest to be a civil servant.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Breezy Rom-Com A Wedding Invitation Rings A Little Hollow (分手合约, 2013)

In the film business these days, China seems to be the word on everyone lips as its market is in the midst of a breathless expansion. However, strict quotas on foreign imports mean that only 35 international films get to share in the spoils. To get around this system, a number of foreign companies have begun co-producing films with China, though the results thus far have been mixed. The Korean media giant CJ Entertainment has been investing in the mainland for quite some time but they have just scored their biggest hit with the romantic comedy A Wedding Invitation, their first fully-produced film for the Chinese market.

Friday, April 26, 2013

UDINE 2013: How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (남자 사용설명서, 2013)

Part of MKC's coverage of the 15th Udine Far East Film Festival.

Being one of the more tired genres to litter the multiplexes, every so often romantic comedies need a little boost to remind us that they can be worthwhile. Out of all of the national industries that regularly churn them out, this seems to happen the most often in Korean cinema. Many western film viewers were introduced to the country’s cinematic output through the contemporary classic My Sassy Girl (2001), which launched the careers of both Jeon Ji-hyun (The Thieves) and Cha Tae-hyun (Speedy Scandal, 2008).

Monday, July 2, 2012

NYAFF 2012: Couples (커플즈, Keo-peul-jeu) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the 11th New York Asian Film Festival.

Mainstream cinema has the potential to demonstrate both the best and the worst that the medium has to offer.  Concerning the latter, any number of criticisms can be leveled at the swill and drivel that the world’s film industries will subjects us to and while they are often besides the point, they are just as frequently justified.  When money is involved projects must inevitably revolve around profit, so at one end of the spectrum you will always find shallow and consumerist works versus the riskier ventures, often from established talents, that you will sometimes witness at the other. 

Between these two extremes there lies an uneasy middle-ground, which is expansive and marked by slippery definitions.  Within this domain, there are filmmakers that strive to make something worthwhile from within the strict confines of commercial filmmaking and they sometimes achieve it, indeed every once in a while they might even make something transcendent.  Then there exists the studio hands who, despite working from a seemingly routine template with the assistance of unexceptional pedigree, every so often happen upon something that works.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Penny Pinchers (티끌모아 로맨스, Ti-kkeul-mo-a Ro-maen-seu) 2011

Korea’s breathless transformation from an outlying nation into one of the world’s leading economies is nothing short of astonishing.  These days the country is a technology leader and is quickly becoming one of the world’s foremost purveyors of entertainment.  By and large the changes have been good for the country as its citizens have become more prosperous and the standard of living has rising dramatically.  However, there is always a price to pay for progress and one of the offshoots of Korea’s good fortune has been a certain shift in values.  Brand fetishization can be seen as a natural and perhaps necessary ill following the collective increase in disposable income.  Whereas thirty years ago the general Korean public may not have been aware of foreign luxury goods, now they’re omnipresent across the land.

Penny Pinchers is a lighthearted romcom which acts like an antidote to the recent raft of consumerist films that have come out of Korea, such as Little Black Dress (2011).  It’s a quirky film which takes a different approach to the genre compared with Korea’s recent offerings.  Thriftiness is the name of the game and the bulk of the narrative is given other to the sometimes difficult process of survival that many directionless 20-somethings are forced to endure.

Ji-woong is an unemployed 26-year-old who is about to lose his apartment and seems hopelessly lost as he attempts to navigate adulthood in modern day Seoul.  His next door neighbour is Hong-shil, a remarkably clever and frugal girl who goes to great lengths to 'pinch pennies'.  After taking advantange of Ji-woong’s late rent payments, which get him kicked out of his lodgings, she takes pity on him and brings him on as a sort of apprentice in thriftiness.

The film starts off as a comedy and the romantic element of it doesn’t really get going at first as it will take a long time for the pair to realize they like each other, though we surmise it much earlier on.  There’s also not too much in the way of a plot as we mainly witness the various little schemes and tricks they employ in order to save money.  The vague goal is for Ji-woong to have enough money for a new apartment and as we learn later on, Hong-shil's path will be a melodramatic one at the end of which she must reconcile the death of her mother. 

Hong-shil is thrifty (to put it mildly) and her sort-of-foil is an airheaded golddigger, whom Ji-woong chases after, trying to fool her into thinking he’s a prosperous young man.  This minor protagonist is far less characterized than the lead but I wonder whether she is intended as a reflection of the shifting values in modern Korea.  Is the director lamenting it?  If so, why do men get off so easily?

If this is a commentary on the commodification of modern Korean’s interests and desires perhaps the two female characters act as signposts of two different generational paradigms.  On the one hand the lead represents a generation that can’t let go of the past while the floozy is an airhead blithely unaware of anything that falls outside of her instant and selfish gratification, though she does get her comeuppance in the end.  She’s even ready and willing for sex on a first date (ostensiby a reward for designer shoes), a rare thing in Korean cinema, also most likely a slur on her character.

The great charm of Penny Pinchers is its easygoing nature and while it sometimes begins to explore bigger issues it is never less than a well-paced and enjoyable film.  A lot of the film’s affableness can be credited to the film’s endearing leads.  I was  not familiar with Han Ye-seul and Song Joong-ki before the film as they have primarily plied their trade in Kdramas but their humour, charisma and charm really make this one of the best romantic comedies of the last few years.  What’s more, while the film does predictably wind down on a melodramatic note, their warmth as performers shines through and guides us serenely through to the film’s climax.

Korean romcoms frequently suffer with their conclusions which often ring false and malign any good groundwork that has been made earlier on but Penny Pinchers deftly handles the combination of pathos, humour and romance that concludes the narrative.  It left me wanting more, in a good way, and I came away very satisified.  Kim Jeong-hwan, a first time writer/director with ample experience in the industry, proves a light touch behind the lens.  A must for romcom fans but also a great standalone film for those who wouldn’t normally seek out such fare.


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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Petty Romance (Jje-jje-han Ro-maen-seu) 2010

Korean romcoms are a dime a dozen in Korea, this is well known, the good news is that most of them are quite good, which is also well know but more than a little surprising to people who may not have seen any. I remember when I first saw My Sassy Girl (2001) and was whole-heartedly enjoying myself, even in spite of my previous prejudice to the genre. Back then I would talk anyone’s ear off who would listen about Korean cinema, truth be told I still do that. It was easy to recommend films to film buffs, most of my colleagues in college, but I struggled to honestly recommend Korean films to many other people. Save the Green Planet (2003) and Oldboy (2003) may have left an impression on me but doubtless those who may not be so keen on stylized violence would be left in the cold. Similarly, Peppermint Candy (1999) and The Power of Kangwon Province (1998) may have been perfect fodder for intellects (would be and otherwise) but those who go to the theater purely for entertainment could not hope to find much to their liking in these films. It was then with great joy and relief that I came across My Sassy Girl, a wonderfully entertaining film that was clever, well-made, and would appeal to a different kind of film viewer. I was able to recommend Korean cinema to people who don’t ever seek out foreign film.

Jeong-bae and Da-rim
This was a turning point in my appreciation of Korea’s film industry, revenge picks and arthouse flicks were all well and good, and they were oh so good, but I learnt that Korea had a lot more to offer to a broader audience. My Sassy Girl was a complete departure from what I’d seen and yet the skill, craftsmanship, and many of the inherent themes still made this evidently cut from the same cloth as what I had previously digested. It’s just that the cloth was bigger than I had once thought, if such a commercial film, a romantic comedy could be produced by an emerging industry, what else was in store? I quickly found out that the answer was a lot, I opened myself to films that on paper may not have been my cup of tea. I was wholly democratic in my Korean film selection and the treasures I uncovered were rich and plenty.

Petty Romance is not My Sassy Girl, and likely it will not motivate the same kind of response as it did in me, but it is a more than serviceable film that reminded me of that same feeling. If it were an American film I would probably hate it, because it would have displayed less ingenuity, quality, and verve, but I admit also because it wouldn’t have been Korean. I am completely biased at this point, and unashamedly so. I will watch any Korean film and pretty much always find something to like in them or link them to others I’ve seen. On paper, Petty Romance is a film that I would have no interest in, but I trust Korean filmmakers to do something new and I also trust the online community of filmmakers that have been quite taken with this new offering.

Externalizing the internal with animation
The film is about an amateur comic book writer Jeong-bae who is a great illustrator but has some problems when it comes to writing a story. After being rejected everywhere with his 3-years in the making oeuvre, he decides to enter a competition for an adult comic with a $100,000 prize. He must do this in order to buy back his late father’s painting, which otherwise will be auctioned off to cover his debt to one of his father’s friends. Da-rim is a struggling sex columnist who can’t hold down a job and is staying with her playboy brother. Jeong-bae interviews for a story writer to help him win the competition and selects Da-rim, they bicker their way through the project and of course fall in love but not without a few obstacles.

It’s a simple story that is told effectively but it does approach its subject matter in a clever fashion. As the two create the story for the comic it becomes apparent that it is just a externalization of their sexual anxieties, not least because Da-rim is a virgin. Debut director Kim Jeong-hoon-Il, who previously penned Sword in the Moon (2003), capitalizes on these moments with well-rendered animation sequences which also serve to quicken the pace of the film, which is not always up to speed with the snappiness of the film’s characters. In fact the film’s main flaw is probably its length. At 117 minutes it is not an overly long Korean film but the story struggles across it at points. A curious amount of counterpoint is achieved throughout the film, especially due to the animation scenes which are explicitly violent and sexual that are placed in this quirky good-natured romcom. I think it is a good addition as it adds some gravitas to the inner frustrations of the characters.

A very modern film
The lead performances from Lee Seon-gyoon and Choi Kang-hee are quite charming and their chemistry is engaging. The supporting characters are the typical placeholders you would expect in this kind of a film and while the resolutions are visible from a distance the journey is entertaining enough for this to be a worthwhile venture. One last thing I should say about this film is that it is definitely one of the most modern Korean films I’ve seen. It was released last December and besides its use of iPhones and the various other trappings of modern society it has an extremely modern look and feel: one scene features Da-rim and her friend at a club where the music is very downbeat minimalist techno and the patrons dance in a trance. I can’t quite explain all it but it felt a little different from what I’ve seen previously. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who doesn’t already know they like Korean romcoms but if you have any interest in them Petty Romance is definitely worth a look.