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.

As a big fan of Jung Jae-young, I sometimes worry about his choice of scripts. When in the right project, such as Going By the Book (2007) or Castaway on the Moon (2009), there's no one out there that can beat him, but when he's matched with a director or material that can't quite capitalize on his very particular performance style, which relies heavily on his dry and taciturn expressions, things can get a little sketchy. His last film, the sci-fi 11 A.M., fell in this camp, as he seemed completely miscast.

I wouldn't say the same for Plan Man, but it still wasn't the best fit for his performance style. On paper it makes sense, as one can imagine that Jung as an anal-retentive and emotionally stunted busybody would be a good match. However, the performance drawn out of Jung in this picture is a little too affected and the emotional histrionics that are drawn out in the back half don't do him any favors.

Playing opposite Jung as the spontaneous So-jung is Han Ji-man, who, while full of energy, also feels a touch forced. Still, she provides some much-needed energy in the film, and ends up being more engaging than her more high profile co-star. In a supporting role, Jang Gwang adds to his string of solid turns. The voice actor, who made his screen debut late in his career in 2011's Silenced, combines his rich voice and mournful expressions for great pathos.

Plan Man mostly relies on a functional aesthetic, eschewing any grand stylistic flourishes. First time director Song Si-heub, an assistant director on A Dirty Carnival (2006), plays it safe and what that amounts to is a film that doesn't leave much of an impression. When the film initially dives into Jung-seok's backstory, a quirky, retro production design and wigged Jang Gwang liven things up. What's more, when the flashbacks veer into darker territory, exhibiting the enormous amount of pressure put onto the young Jung-seok's shoulders, one gets a little taste of biting social critique.

Alas, placed in stark opposition to the frivolous comedy of the first half, the insertion of the scenes comes off as incongruous. It doesn't help when the script calls for some grand theatrics towards the end. By that point the film hardly seems like a romantic comedy at all, fixating almost entirely on Jung Jae-young's character and the trauma that led to his developing OCD.

By mostly delivering what it advertises on the tin, I wouldn't call Plan Man a failure, yet a little more care and liveliness could have made this a fun ride, rather than the overlong and run-of-the-mill yarn that it is. It's easy enough to get through, but perhaps even easier to forget about.


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