July 15, 2012

My Dear Enemy: The Dwindling Returns of Love Lost, Found and Lost Again

How far would you go to get $3,500 back from an old boyfriend who was a total slacker? Would you track him down at the horse track and drive him around all day as he tried to weasel smaller sums of money from a series of questionable sources? That's what Hee-su (Jeon Do-yeon) does and in Lee Yeon-ki's depressing drama My Dear Enemy she's about to pay a very different price.

She's going to have to listen to her ex (Ha Jung-woo) sweet talk and cajole money out of every female acquaintance they meet then suffer through hearing him recount all the sweeter parts of their past, memory by memory. It's painful watching a bitter young woman get sucked in by a scammer all over again but that's really what My Dear Enemy is all about.

For most of the movie, Hee-su looks like a woman deeply in need of barbiturates. She's bitter, morose, and prone to complain. Given that Yeon-ki dumped her over a year ago, her actions come across as confused at best. Who'd go back to a shared favorite restaurant in this scenario? You get the feeling that there's a part of her that's ashamed and so she's out to humiliate herself every step of the way.

If you did start, there are a number of moments in which you likely would have bailed. Like when he brought you to get hundreds of dollars from a prostitute. Or when you ended up drinking beers with his former college roommate who's husband constantly insults her. Hee-su almost backs out. Why doesn't she? I suppose her love is deeper than mine.

And so the day continues, and she's following him now to a biker gangs' rooftop layout where she'll get yet another portion of the owed sum, this time over pork chops and beer served by people in leather jackets. Then it's off to pick up the wayward teen of some of his friends. Then trudging through the rain to get your car back since it's been towed. It really just gets worse and worse!

In it own weird way, I guess My Dear Enemy is a romantic drama to help single people feel better about not being paired off with a cute loser who'd probably land you in debt, pregnant and homeless. Then again, maybe not since by the end Hee-su seems like a heartless bitch who just extorted thousands of dollars from a homeless man. Oh well.

July 8, 2012

Couples: The Domino Effect in Comedy

It's hard to imagine recommending director Jeong Yong-ki's clunky comedy Couples to anyone, unreservedly. It's also hard to remember a time spent laughing this loudly in a movie theater. The reason behind these two conflicting bits of information is the amount of setting up that goes into each of the big sight gags and jokes within Jeong's deliberately constructed romcom. You're going to laugh, yes, and laugh hard too, but you're also going to have to wait to do so, sometimes for a fairly long time.

Presented as a series of minisodes (of varying length) that chart the progress of a half dozen relationships from first meeting to impending marriage, Couples is the cinematic equivalent of an uneven collection of interconnected short stories -- some are super-short, some are not-so-interesting, one is hilarious and they all tie up in the end. If you stick around until the final story, the pay-off is well worth it but it's also good to know going in that you're going to have to be patient until you get there.

The best story revolves around Na-ri (Lee Si-young), a ruthless gold digger who snags not one, not two, but three very different men -- a nerdy tea shop owner (Kim Ju-hyuk), an even nerdier private investigator (Oh Jeong-se) and a lovestruck gangster (Kong Hyeong-jin) who ends up severing his ties to the mob in hopes of tying the big knot with this femme fatale. Lee's definitely the breakout star in this ensemble comedy. She's somehow incredibly likable while simultaneously projecting a persona that suggests she doesn't give a damn if you like her or not. False in everything except her pursuit of money, she's delectably diabolical. She also seems to bring the best out of her co-stars, especially Kong who transforms from toughie to teddy bear in one particularly humorous scene at a restaurant.

The other primary story involves the tea shop owner and a female cop (Lee Yun-ji) who keep bumping into each other at the weirdest places (cafe, bus stop, bank robbery, etc.). Their story has as much screen time as Na-ri's but isn't nearly as funny. That's what happens when your job is to set up the jokes instead of deliver them.

Note: Couples is a remake of a Japanese film entitled A Stranger of Mine which, from one online description, sounds dramatically different.