It seems I can’t get out of South Korea.
No! I said South Korea, not North Korea.
Now that’s just Oldboy (2003) crossed with The Lawnmower Man (1992).
With those two movie reference jokes out of the way, let’s talk about these four films before I completely forget them.
Man in Love (2014, dir. Dong-wook Han) – This was a whopper to start with. Let’s look at that poster.
“SHE becomes HIS reason to live”.
At least it’s honest and puts SHE and HIS in all caps.
“HIS FIRST YET LAST ROMANCE”
Yes, because I know that my first romance which occurred in my late 20’s back in 2012 began with me acting like a complete psychopath. Actually, it essentially began when I gave into being hit on for about 8 months or so. Then I largely screwed it up because it was my first, I didn’t know I was transgender, nor that I was a lesbian. There were of course issues on her end too, but I certainly didn’t help. I really should have seen Man in Love first, then that relationship would have lasted a lifetime. Okay, let me lay this out for you.
The movie begins and we are introduced to our main character who is a collection guy for a gangster. He is rather nuts and even drinks gasoline in order to pressure one guy. He then visits a hospital room where we meet our girl. She is there because her father is in a coma. He is there to make sure that she signs a contract to take on the debt her father acquired before ending up in the hospital. He’s rather brutal and makes her sign it. He now immediately begins to stalk her. He goes to his boss and convinces him to give him the contract so that he has control over her. He draws a picture on a piece of paper with boxes on it and tells her that every hour she spends with him will make him fill in one of them. When all the boxes are filled in, then the contract will be void. Now he visits a hooker to ask her if thinking constantly about a person means you’re in love with them. Okay, but it’s not like he’s going to try and have sex with her or insinuate himself into her relationship with her dad or anything, right? During one of these hours he tries to take her to a motel. She just walks away, but the camera pans up to make sure you know it’s a motel. Then he is caught reading to her father at the hospital. After going to bother the hooker some more, he tells her he doesn’t love her. At this point, her dad dies and he either sets up the funeral or just shows up and pretends to be a son-in-law. Either way, she apparently wants him now and they kiss shortly afterwards.
So he does what we would all do in his situation of course! He takes her to a stairwell and proceeds to try and sniff her.
She obviously thinks this is weird, but that’s not your cue to stop. Amp that up!
He drops trou and proceeds to try and dry hump her. LOVE!!!
They are together now. This is only about 45 minutes into a 2 hour movie! Let me attempt to lay out how they try to explain all this.
It cuts to two years later and he is in prison where he is released early because he has a terminal illness that will kill him soon which is why they can’t legally hold him apparently.
Oh, you actually thought there would be more to it? Nope! That’s really this movie’s excuse. He has a terminal illness that he doesn’t discover till two years later. The rest plays out like some tragic epic romance with him slipping away till he dies leaving her with his father crying on a bus.
Okay, here’s what I think they were trying to go for here. We meet a man who essentially was born into this lifestyle and like myself has lived such a solitary life that he is very confused about these emotions he is feeling so he acts on them the only way he knows how. Since his life is one of threats and coercion, he uses those thing to keep her in his life. Being such a shut-in emotionally he even does something as strange as sniff her and try to dry hump her in response to something as innocent as a kiss. He entered her life at a time when the most important man in her life was leaving here for good. As strange as it was, through all his crazy attempts to be with her, she can sense genuine feelings behind his actions and acts on her feelings during a vulnerable time in her life. He never really can break from violence both in terms of his life till now, but also in that socialization that would have allowed him to be “normal” was robbed from him. Finding out that he is going to die only drives him further along the downward spiral. In the end, he essentially dies alone, but tells his father to please watch over her.
I really feel that’s what they were going for here, but it doesn’t work. The linchpins in this storyline are his character knowing he had a terminal illness, the movie being far more obvious about his awkwardness that is hiding real feelings for her, and us believing that she would actually fall for him. The character doesn’t know he has a terminal illness until well after he is gotten her. This means the film expects you to project backwards two years in a sense as a partial explanation for his actions. The movie doesn’t make his lack of ability to exist in regular society clear enough for us to see anything but a crazy man doing crazy things that should cause her to run and not result in reward for him. There’s actually a scene with the police where the cop seems to take his side because the contract says she owes him money. Also, there is never a satisfactory explanation for why she falls for all this. Nor is this man ever really admonished for his actions at the beginning of this film.
Throughout this I couldn’t help but think of another film. That film being Joan Micklin Silver’s Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979). That movie covers similar territory, but so much better. It’s a personal favorite of mine. It features actor John Heard back when he was still on track to become a star, but largely wound up as that guy everyone remembers as the father from Home Alone (1990). It’s the story of a man who spends the entire film stalking and insinuating his way into the life of his ex-girlfriend Laura. We get a flashback to when they met at the beginning of the film. He doesn’t threaten her into a relationship. It is love at first sight for him, but he does what a lot of us would do when they notice somebody that catches their eye. They find a reasonable excuse to spend some time around them. You know, like a sane person does. In his case, he moves rather quickly. I won’t get into the details.
As for the stalking, which even involves him entering her house and completely embarrassing himself and her in front of her new man, is never condoned or rewarded. The film takes us through this man’s crisis of losing somebody he deeply cared for and just can’t let go of. We get it, understand, but never are asked to find his behavior acceptable. We also understand why she loved him and why she goes out of her way to try and let him down easy throughout the film. In the end, she doesn’t come back. The ending of the film has him coming around. It finally sinks in that “it’s over”. We see him at his desk when it’s time for work to end. “It’s not that doesn’t still hurt. It’s that you get used to it.” The last scene has him in a park where we see him make a mad sprint before stopping, turning, and freeze framing.
Chilly Scenes of Winter came into my life in the aftermath of losing my first and only romantic interest. I would say I went through a similar crisis and it took several years for it to truly stop being a daily fact of my existence that I lost someone who at least was very special to me. I believe that Man in Love is well meaning, but it never really gels properly. Using Chilly Scenes of Winter again, it originally was titled and released as Head over Heels and had her come back to him. It was changed in 1982 to have the appropriate ending that matched the book it was based on and the title was changed to match that of the book. Man in Love needed that kind of work, but the changes would be more systemic than a simple change of the ending.
Now that I have poured my heart out to you in a sense, let’s move onto three comedies!
My Ordinary Love Story (2014, dir. Kwon Lee) – I actually saw (500) Days of Summer (2009) in theaters back when it came out. I can’t say I ever thought it needed to be taken and add a really dark turn by having Joseph Gordon-Levitt turn out to be a killer. Seriously, it’s like an Italian Comedy in that sense. Don’t know what an Italian Comedy is? Despite it’s name it’s not called that because it’s a comedy made in Italy. They made those before this genre appeared and they made them after it disappeared. These were comedies that would always have something dark or something you would never think to incorporate into a comedy. I love these movies. Here’s an example of what I am talking about.
Seven Beauties (1975) has our lead wind up in a concentration camp during WWII starving trying to seduce the female commandant in order to survive at the end of the movie. He is taken in front of a bunch of his fellow prisoners and handed a gun to execute someone. The man begs him to shoot him because he can’t go on living. He does shoot him. In the end he makes it home alive to his sisters in Italy. He receives a hero’s return. Our lead looks right into the eyes of his love interest he left behind. He knows and tells her that it’s okay she had to prostitute herself while he was gone to survive. He wants to be married. He tells her:
“There isn’t much time to lose. I want children. Many children. 10. 20. It’s a matter of self defense. Many, and they must be very strong. Look at the crowds out there. In a few more years they’ll be murdering each other. Families slaughtered just for an apple. So we must see to it our family is large. That’ll be our defense. Understand?”
It ends with sad piano music, a sad look on his face, and the words “Yes, I’m alive”. I assure you this is a comedy. A very funny one at that. In fact, here it is if you want to watch it. Assuming it is still available. I can’t recommend it more strongly. Warning, it is dubbed into English.
Other prominent examples include Divorce, Italian Style (1961); Seduced and Abandoned (1964); The Birds, The Bees and the Italians (1966); Il Sorpasso (1962); and many others.
With that backstory out of the way, this movie begins and we are introduced to the quirky, totally not Zooey Deschanel, girl named Park Eun-jin. We get a very modern and hipster introduction to her and her previous six relationships. It’s all presented like you are in for a fun 21st century millennial romantic comedy. She obviously feels burned by all these failed romances and she is only in her late 20s. She winds up in the back of a cab with a man. He is rather quite and reserved, but they form a bond. He does seem a little weird, but it’s nothing we take too seriously as something that should be a big red flag for her.
After entering into a relationship with him, he actually largely disappears from the film as it focuses on her becoming more and more obsessed with trying to figure out if he is cheating on her. We figure it will maybe go that he will leave her because she truly has become damaged goods, will turn out to be clean and find this aspect of her enduring, or maybe something in between where he leaves her, but she comes around and returns to him. Nope! She winds up finding a body in a case in his trunk. That’s when the film takes a sudden turn in every sense.
We are now back to the cab ride where he had an odd comment about the driver. It turns out that a cab driver was in some way responsible for the death of his father. His mother was left alone and eventually wound up dead too. I believe she committed suicide or something after being taken advantage by one man after another as she tried to help them scrape by. He grew up with a deep hatred that led him to kill the cab driver and others who had done his mother wrong. But the body was a woman in his car. Turns out that the cab driver had a wife and he only saw his mother in her which eventually led him to kill her too. I guess this is one of those movies that I won’t spoil, but this dark turn has very dark consequences that in some way are a lesson to her not to let any series of bad experiences with men consume her because hatred can fester and transform you in ways you may never be able to return from.
I recommend this as interesting look at what I see as a South Korean version of Italian Comedy. Otherwise, I wouldn’t seek this out.
Marriage Blue (2013, dir. Ji-Yeong Hong) – Phew! With those rather serious films out of the way, we can just talk briefly about a bunch of romantic comedies tossed together with a countdown that appears on screen as the wedding dates for the couples approach. Seriously, that’s it! Next movie.
Just kidding. Let’s talk a little. I am terrible about keeping track of characters and this one introduces a bunch within the first five minutes of the movie. It’s very quick. I remember the older guy who is going to get married to a younger girl from Uzbekistan and has erectial disfunction. I remember the doctor treating him who stabs a guy just off center of his penis. I remember the girl with short hair who is hiding her true identity from her parents and finds any excuse to try and put off the wedding to a really nice quirky guy who loves the hell out of her. There is a baseball player in there somewhere. Oh, and the lady who goes on the tour which causes her to run into the author of a book she’s reading.
The plots are somewhat difficult to follow. Especially for me. It really gives you no time to stop and think. A film like this sinks or floats based on whether you like the characters or not. Largely, I did. The two I remember the most are the guy with erectial disfunction and the quirky guy who has a tacky sense of fashion and loves his rocking chair. The guy with erectial disfuntion never comes across as if he is just marrying a younger woman because she’s hot or anything. We also don’t get the impression that he wants to cure his inability to get it up for him. It comes across like he feels deeply guilty that if he can’t do that, then he won’t be able to live up to his end of the bargain that she more than does for him. Just like a Howard Hawks’ film, as soon as the two of them really trust each other, the problem disappears just like the plot in a Hawks film. The tacky guy just always comes across as someone that is perfect for her and is willing to bend over backwards to try and break through her exterior. An exterior that she ultimately sheds because she isn’t happy hiding her true self. I love when she tells her father. He doesn’t appear to have known in advance like parents in movies seem to when their child tells them they are gay. He is just surprised that she hasn’t brought it up till now, and is a little pissed off that her fiancee knew his own daughter better than him.
You all know how this kind of movie comes to a resolution. If this is your kind of thing, then this really is a perfectly decent entry into the genre.
Moonshine Girls (2015, dir. Kim Ki-Young) – The plot summary on Amazon Prime told me that it was about a girl who keeps showing up drunk at school because she is trying to perfect/rediscover her dead father’s rice wine recipe in order to save her family brewery. Interesting plot, eh?
Well, it does start off with us quickly getting introduced to our leading lady and she is drunk at school alright. We also discover that roaming schoolyard bitch squads are a universal thing. We also find that teenage boys fighting on the playground for no good reason are also a universal thing. Well, that’s not completely fair. The were negotiating who held claim to all the girls in the school and those negotiations fell through. So logically they had to start fighting. This is when we are introduced to a new teacher at the school. By introduced, I mean he tries to break up the fight and gets punched in the face several times till he is on the ground. There’s your setup. Oh, and some of the kids are involved with gangsters. Believe me, that’s a footnote in this movie. The gangsters are the reason why the brewery is in trouble, but it will barely come up in the movie. But you know what does come up a lot? This guy!
No, not the guy on the left. We’ll get to him. I mean the guy on the right. He is apparently from America (a naturalized Korean) as if you can tell from the fact that he couldn’t look more British if he tried. I buy the Korean on the left as being from America more than this guy. I had a British chemistry teacher in college. He was part of a teacher exchange program. This guy could be his long lost brother. Oh, and the actor plays him like a gay stereotype too. I get no impression that he’s supposed to be gay, but that this is how Americans are meant to be portrayed in this film. As weak, meek, and generally will run from actually doing anything useful.
Now for the guy on the left. He is the new teacher at the school. I believe he used to go there when he was a kid and it apparently was a rather prestigious school test score wise at the time. This guy is basically a cross between Mr. Miyagi and the unkillable worker from Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s Arsenal (1929). Yeah, this movie definitely has a propaganda feel to it. Wouldn’t get that from the plot summary, but it’s here.
He hooks up with the girls and winds up getting everyone involved in this noble pursuit this young lady and her two friends have. The movie even reminds us that rice wine is for more than getting wasted. Also, that it’s matter of pride. He goes into Miyagi mode when he trains everyone in martial arts by having them do something that totally is not wax on wax off or jacket on jacket off. Yeah, this guy is apparently a martial artist, rice wine expert, teacher, and a Korean nationalist all rolled into one. At least he’s entertaining. Unlike the British American guy.
There is only one part of this that actually offended me, and it could be the translation along with a bit of misinterpretation. There’s a scene where the girls have an older guy taste their rice wine to test it’s quality for them. He likes it, but he can tell that their “five grains” rice wine really is only 4 grains. Why? Because he can tell that one of the ingredients is not domestic. They never use the word foreign, but it makes me wonder. Was he referring to ingredients from just their region of Korea? Did he mean South Korea as a whole? The way the rest of the film is and that the lead teacher looks like he could be in communist propaganda as a proud communal farm worker, makes me think he meant South Korea as a whole. The speech the girl gives at the end doesn’t help.
I can’t really say this is bad. It’s just a little odd. I really am not 100% positive this is or isn’t propaganda. I guess check it out and tell me what you think. If you dare! Duh, duh, duh!
Oh, and if you are a gamer, you will notice that one of the guys has a hairdo similar to the kid in the game Quest 64. Good thing I wasn’t watching this with my neighbor who I forced to play and beat that game when I was a kid. It would have given him flashbacks. I know I was already having flashbacks to In The Name Of The King 2: Two Worlds (2011) because the Korean superman teacher wears a scarf in numerous scenes. In The Name Of The King 2: Two Worlds had Dolph Lundgren wearing a scarf that he never took off. One final thing, Dolph Lundgren is going to be in a sequel to Kindergarten Cop (1990). Yeah! Let that settle in.