I wasn’t actually planning to watch and review this one (I have something for a Litterbox joint review and 2 films for Easternkicks to do, someone isn’t going out this weekend!), but the general premise sounded so interesting that I could not help myself. The problem is that I knew that this one starts and finishes in quite a different place. But genre shift? That’s fairly common for Korean Cinema right? Shall we have a little look?
“My Ordinary Love Story” picks up the story of Eun-jin (Kang Ye-won), a girl approaching her 30’s that simply has had no luck in love. Her previous 6 relationships have all ended up with her being cheated on, or being “the other woman”. After her latest breakup, where she is told that she is the sort of girl you date rather than marry, she drunkenly accepts an offer of a shared taxi ride from the somewhat shy and awkward Hyun-suk (Song Saue-byeok). It’s not exactly a match made in heaven, but we jump forward a year, and the couple are engaged and have settled into a couples lifestyle. Eun-jin then accidentally spies a message on her fiance’s phone, and get’s into her head that he is also cheating on her. Roping in her Policewoman best friend So-young (Park Gri-na) and latterly her unemployed ex-Marine brother Eun-gyeol (Kim Hyun-joon) she starts to investigate him, and discovers a web of deceit and lies. When she finally approaches him with her suspicions and evidence though, it turns out there are things that are much worse than having a cheat as a Boyfriend!
Really really hard to talk about this one without talking about the final act. Indeed, even mentioning that everything changes almost feels like spoiler territory. But I suspect if you are reading this you are the kind of person who probably does not care. For the first two-thirds of the film though we are in safe territory. It’s a modern Rom-com, with some stylish work in both technical areas and performances. Kang’s Eun-jin is definitely in the post “My Sassy Girl” mode of Korean female leads in this kind of film – she’s approaching old maid status (because 30 is soooo old right?), she’s prone to drinking too much, has quite a temper, is fairly selfish and has a delightfully potty mouth. And despite this lack of originality, she is a lot of fun. Kang has been around a while, but I have never really seen her as properly front and centre in a film as this before. Yes she shared the lead in “Quick” and “The Huntresses”, but she was still very much second fiddle. Here she’s allowed to actually display all kinds of depth, and most of all, a real ability at delivering a believable humorous character. And she’s pretty good at the more dramatic stuff later. She’s a modern woman with some old school desires (she still desires to get married more than anything else). It is hard not to like her, though to love her might be a step too far!
Song’s Hyun-suk is a little harder to talk about. For the first two acts he pretty much plays his normal role, a slightly awkward, but genuinely likeable chap (his performance in “A Girl at my Door” was quite a departure). It wobbles on the edge of caricature, but again, it delivers in both comfort and humour. When things change, his performance moves into the new paradigm effortlessly. The guy has seriously stepped up his game. And it’s actually really clever casting.
There is a lot packed in to the brisk 90 minutes of the film, and it seriously rattles along at a fair old pace. This has the advantage of stopping the film falling into many of the traps of the usual Korean Rom-com (so often the second act just drags). Director Lee Kwon makes use of as many tricks as he can to make sure the film doesn’t stop at any point, using fast editing, quick flashbacks, a year-jump and an animated sequence. On the whole I found this approach successful, although I do wonder if we could have spent a little longer knowing about the couple in the missing year – they met, moved in together, and got engaged. And then next thing we know they are in trouble. I also think there are things that need a little fleshing out, for example, why does Eun-jin’s Father not like Hyun-suk? What is the real story behind Hyun-suk’s love of going to the Zoo? None of it matters really in terms of the story and where it is going, but for the sake of a couple of minutes, it feels we are missing just that little extra that could have elevated the movie up a notch.
When the change comes, it does get seriously dark, but somehow it works. Little hints come to live (and despite what I complained about in the previous paragraph, I thought that the film made use of some little moments rather well, without ramming certain things home – I am thinking about a Woman’s self-defense lesson as a key example). To be totally honest, the film is so well put together, the twist is isn’t as jarring as it could be – it all makes sense. The issue is with the utter change in tone.
Here is the problem. The film looks and feels like a date movie. It’s a quirky and fun Rom-com for an hour. ANd then it goes somewhere so different, you wonder if it is going to keep the audience. Personally I loved it. Though I was expecting it. How would you feel if you were expecting the story to continue in the vein it started in? Would you feel cheated? Also, there is something about the ending which feels a touch disturbing. After all that happened, there is the suggestion that Eun-jin was so happy to be told by someone that they love her, that she could forgive anything?
Overall though, personally I loved it. For the first hour it felt fresh and was genuinely funny. The change in tone was pretty dark and disturbing, but personally I was OK with it both thematically and how the story got to that point. It wasn’t totally jarring, the groundwork was done. Kang gives a performance that could be career defining. I am going to give it a Recommended, it might have been a “Highly” if only I got a little bit more of a feel of the main characters as a couple.