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.

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