November 24, 2011

Hello, Schoolgirl: Older Man Likes Barely Legal Girl (But at Least He's Cute)

The problem with Hello, Schoolgirl is succinctly illustrated in a cafe scene during which the two main characters announce their ages: Yeon-woo (Yu Ji-tae) is 30; Soo-yeong (Lee Yeon-hee) is 18. A moment later, the meal continues only now he's replaced by an 18-year-old version of himself and she now looks like she's six. That brief, momentary fantastical transformation clues you into the disparity if you missed it when they said it out loud. He's way too old for her. Now you could argue that she's mature for her age (if she were but she isn't) or that they're consenting adults (if they were but according to Korean law she's not). I get where I'm supposed to make concessions. But despite its twee attractions, Ryu Jang-ha's romantic comedy kept me thinking that there's something wrong with a 30-year-old guy dating a young girl just shy of womanhood. Well, at least the Koreans have the decency to make him really cute instead of an out-of-shape, balding slob. I say, if you're going to go for older, go for hot. (I wish she'd gone for smarter and richer, too. Sadly, he's neither.) What else has he got working in his favor? He's a pleaser! The old couple who own the dry cleaners love him; the realtor who helped him to get an apartment finds him charming, too. Now if he can stop courting underage girls via sexting, maybe he can stay out of prison.

There's a secondary plot involving 29-year-old jaded photographer Ha-kyeong (Chae Jeong-an) being pursued by a 22-year-old masochist named Sook (Kang In). He likes her because she's pretty. She tolerates him because he wears the same shirt every day. That's it. It's all about superficial attractions here. In a way, Hello Schoolgirl is about two kinds of predators: one lurks; the other stalks. And if you think I'm imposing a creepy interpretation, take a look at the skulker's depersonalized, nearly empty apartment that reeks of smoke, or the discomfort he displays when the girl's mom sees him holding hands with his student-love, or the lack of outrage he show when his friend asks him if it's statutory rape. There's something wrong with this guy. But then, I often feel that way with romantic comedies. I'm not so easily convinced two people are soul mates who need to defy society's constraining conventions.

Maybe Hello, Schoolgirl is secretly funded by an Asian branch of NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association. (SAMBLA?) Although the main couple is a man and a girl, this rom-com is definitely asking us to question the age of consent, and while the spook factor on this one is really hard to overcome, you have to admit this cast exudes so much charm you hate to not let them all end up as couples. She'll be a child bride. And by the end of the movie, she's of age. Start throwing the instant rice.

1 comment:

  1. im watching this right now and i agree 100%. the older guy is damn creepy.