September 3, 2011

White Valentine: When a Love Story Isn't About Love at All

I find Yang Yun-ho's White Valentine incredibly frustrating. And not just because Lee Eun-kyeong's meandering screenplay has its characters needlessly talking in code or telling each other "Don't tell me!" when the hidden truths don't even seem that earth-shattering. I won't even blame the twee hypersensitivity so execrably conveyed by Jun Gianna as a female high school dropout with a passion for drawing and Park Shin-yang as a widowed pet store owner obsessed with damaged pigeons. I've seen poorly written screenplays poorly acted before. They tend to bore more than irritate me as a rule. What truly sucks about White Valentine, however, is the way it keeps pretending to be this sentimental love story about two drifting rejects who can't find a way to set sail together, because they're too timid to reveal their true selves.

They meet in a park. They write each other anonymous notes sent via carrier pigeon. He keeps pining for her even as she stalks him. He can't see the obvious and she won't announce her identity — maybe because she can't comprehend why he can't pull together all the freaking clues she puts in his way. After awhile, you get the feeling in White Valentine, that this morose duo isn't unlucky so much as they're unsure. Sure, they're stunted beings unlikely to take big risks. But maybe, just maybe, they're also circumspect cynics who are looking at each other and thinking, "Hmm, maybe this one isn't what I"m looking for." On that count, they may both be right. She's able to turn her inner frustration into a piece of kiddie lit. He turns his angst into a coffee table book of bird photographs. Can you really fault love lost when it gives you each a book deal? And when, years later, he discovers the children's book that she's illustrated and recognizes the cover artwork (and the truth that comes with it: It was HER after all!), does he race to find his secret sweetheart? No. He moseys over to the store that her just-as-evasive grandfather (Jeon Mu-song) once ran then shuffles outside the train station where she's about to embark to other climes. When suddenly he makes a mad dash for the tracks, I, for one, was left fantasizing that he'd thrown himself on the tracks. I can't imagine eternal bliss for these two. I see a house filled with melancholia. Boo-hoo and then boo.

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