September 22, 2013

Penny Pinchers: Reality Bites for Today's 98 Percent

Never judge a book by its cover. And never judge a movie by its poster. Look at the crappy Photoshop artwork for Penny Pinchers and you'd easily assume it was just some dumb road trip comedy with a cut-and-paste script and two cute young people parlaying their dimples into big screen careers. But writer-director Kim Jung-hwan's lovely rom-com about a pair of young have-nots wondering how to make it in this world is a far cry from your everyday, copycat crud. At the risk of going out on a limb, I'd even go so far as to say that his sharply observed pic could qualify as a generation-defining movie for millennials. And I don't mean strictly those living in Seoul. Reset this captivating story in NYC and you could have a modern day Reality Bites. Attention Judd Apatow: Here's your chance to resuscitate your directorial career!

To pull that off, of course, he'd have to find an undiscovered Ethan Hawke and Winona Ryder. Which Kim, frankly, has done. Leads Song Joong-ki and Han Ye-seul, despite a mere handful of credits between them, each mine their shared, sizable charisma and emerge from Penny Pinchers as bona fide stars. It's their collective (and unexpected) mega-wattage that makes the small stories in this movie burn so brightly. As a loafer who treats life as a joke, Song's Ji-woong is the kind of guy whose charm won't last past 30 if he doesn't make it big beforehand. Han's Hong-sil is the ugly duckling scavenger who sees everything and everyone as a way to make a buck -- Ji-woong included. But like many a good morality tale before, Penny Pinchers serves up a good life lesson. In a world that worships money but not materialism, respects independence but knows life's nothing without meaningful connections, Penny Pinchers economically shows us the value of the dollar, especially when compared to a deeply felt expression of affection. I now dream of future cityscapes where tents glow on rooftops and makeshift street theaters for two spontaneously appear before closed shop windows on abandoned streets.

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